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SNCOA celebrates 50 years educating the force

  • Published
  • By Brian Ferguson
  • Barnes Center for Enlisted Education

The Air Force Senior Noncommissioned Officer Academy celebrated its 50th Anniversary commemoration with a gala at the Montgomery Country Club, Nov. 9, 2023.

More than 150 people attended the event, which marked the end of the year-long anniversary festivities.

“We have moved from a corps of good mechanics who could diagnose an engine by its sound but couldn’t read the technical manuals, to enlisted Airmen who are trusted to lead boldly, to execute the mission…to fly, fight, and win,” Chief Master Sgt. Joshua Lackey, Command Chief Master Sgt. of the Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education, said during his speech.

The inaugural SNCOA class graduated on March 3, 1973. Prior to that, enlisted professional military education ended with the Noncommissioned Officer Academy. But Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force Richard D. Kisling saw an environment ripe for change. He advocated for a first-class professional military education system for the enlisted force, to include a senior enlisted academy.

Kisling would have to overcome funding challenges and dissenting voices, but in 1972 Chief of Staff of the Air Force Gen. John Ryan signed U.S. Air Force Decision Number D-72-8, formally establishing the SNCOA. Among the first 120 graduates were three future Chief Master Sgts. of the Air Force: Thomas N. Barnes, James M. McCoy and Sam E. Parish. In 1986, the building that houses the SNCO Academy was named Kisling Hall in his honor.

Over the years, other notable Airmen would contribute to Kisling’s legacy. In 1983 Chief Master Sgt. Bobby Renfroe, the first enlisted SNCOA commandant, turned a small collection of historical items and a building originally slated for demo into the Enlisted Heritage Research Institute, the only enlisted centric museum in the Air Force.

The academy has also seen countless curriculum updates and changes to keep pace with technology and the ever-changing world.

Carpet bombing campaigns like Operation Linebacker II in North Vietnam coincided with the inaugural class. Now, precision guided munitions can hit a two-meter target through a window.

“In 2009, when I attended the SNCO Academy, it was a much different experience. We were primarily focused on three domains of warfare and a violent extremist organization fight,” Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass said in a video message played at the gala. “Today, you are charged with preparing our people to operate successfully in air, land, sea, space, cyber and information while deterring any, and all, pacing challenges.” 

The current curriculum is not only taught to Airmen, but the joint force, and is sought after by partner nations hoping to mirror the U.S. military’s enlisted corps.

“It is a frequent occurrence to have the Canadian, Dutch, UK, Saudi, Philippine, and UAE senior enlisted leaders attend the graduation of their students,” Lackey said.

In the next two years, the Air Force will continue to roll out the Enlisted Force Development Continuum, and noncommissioned officers will learn new competencies on risk vulnerability assessments and serving as the trusted advisor to commanders at all levels.

“For me, the SNCOA is the vanguard for our Air Force SNCO Corps,” Chief Master Sgt. Alex Eudy, commandant of the SNCOA, said. “I look back on the 50 years of this institution and whenever called upon it has set the standard for the top three ranks, providing deliberate education for the challenges Airmen face as leaders; whether in expeditionary or home-station roles.” 

The SNCOA began their anniversary celebration in January with events throughout the year such as a student social with a 50th anniversary cake, a Kisling Hall beautification project, a 5K run, several staff and student bar-be-ques and a legacy wall dedication.