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Distance leraning is closer than you think

Members of the South Carolina Air National Guard at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., complete their final night class of the NCO Academy Distance Learning Program, June 7, 2012.  They will be attending a final two week in-residence training to complete their PME instruction at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, T.N..

(South Carolina Air National Guard Photo by:  Master Sgt. Pelham Myers Jr., RELEASED, 169th FW Public Affairs)

Members of the South Carolina Air National Guard at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., complete their final night class of the NCO Academy Distance Learning Program, June 7, 2012. They will be attending a final two week in-residence training to complete their PME instruction at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, T.N.. (South Carolina Air National Guard Photo by: Master Sgt. Pelham Myers Jr., RELEASED, 169th FW Public Affairs)

Members of the South Carolina Air National Guard at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., complete their final night class of the NCO Academy Distance Learning Program, June 7, 2012.  They will be attending a final two week in-residence training to complete their PME instruction at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, T.N..

(South Carolina Air National Guard Photo by:  Master Sgt. Pelham Myers Jr., RELEASED, 169th FW Public Affairs)

Members of the South Carolina Air National Guard at McEntire Joint National Guard Base, S.C., complete their final night class of the NCO Academy Distance Learning Program, June 7, 2012. They will be attending a final two week in-residence training to complete their PME instruction at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, T.N.. (South Carolina Air National Guard Photo by: Master Sgt. Pelham Myers Jr., RELEASED, 169th FW Public Affairs)

MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, South Carolina -- Nine SCANG members graduated from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Tennessee's McGhee-Tyson ANG Base last month. The class of "distance learners" already are back to work at McEntire and the next class of potential graduates commences this month.

The Distance Learning Program is a 15-week remote version of the NCOA, which lasts six weeks in-residence. The satellite program is specifically designed for Airmen who are unable to commit to six weeks in Tennessee due to job, family, education and other reasons.

During the first phase of the DLP, students attend four-hour training sessions on Tuesdays and Thursdays at McEntire. Trained facilitators help them participate in interactive training lessons which are broadcast over the Air National Guard's Warrior Network satellite system.

Col. Mike Hudson, 169th Fighter Wing commander, said the program is a good deal because the students have the benefit of helping each other as a team, rather than attempting to go it alone.

Recent graduate Tech. Sgt. Heather McNeil, chaplain assistant for the 169th FW, agrees teamwork was vital to her success. In fact, it helped her to earn Distinguished Graduate honors.

"The McEntire team was excellent," she said. "We studied together and practiced our speeches with each other. If it wasn't for them, I would not have been able to accomplish what I did. The team was certainly an integral part of my accomplishments."

McNeil also emphasized that one of the many advantages of participating in the program was the opportunity to immediately apply 'lessons-learned.'

She said, "Immediate application of course concepts gave me the ability to see right away what worked and didn't work. It also provided me the time to re-attack and ask questions during the upcoming weekly sessions if needed."

Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Brunson, munitions superintendent for the 169th Maintenance Squadron, agrees that quick implementation of what is learned helps students retain the knowledge. He said the course helped get him where he is now in his military career.

The DLP also gives Air Guard units like the SCANG an opportunity to cut costs associated with what would normally be a 6-week TDY.

Brunson said, "As budget cuts continue and possibly increase, the Distance Learning course will more than likely become the wave of the future. We will have to learn to do more with less. And, besides, the camaraderie here cannot be replaced."

Camaraderie is one of the main reasons Tech. Sgt. David Caldwell of the 245th Air Traffic Control Squadron enjoyed the class. "The best part of the course was meeting fellow NCOs throughout the SCANG and learning about their jobs and how everyone fits into the main scheme of things," he said.

The NCO Academy is a requirement for promotion to master sergeant. Active Duty Air Force members must take the course in-residence but Air National Guard members have the option of the satellite program.

Master Sgt. James Jefferson, resource advisor for 169th Logistics Readiness Squadron and lead site facilitator, said, "The positive side to the satellite course is that an employer who might not be able to support a lengthy TDY only needs to allow their employee to be away the final two weeks of the course.

"I initially became involved as a facilitator to help students fulfill their PME squares," he said. "I also thought this would be a good way for me to help our own people, specifically those who weren't able to attend in residence, complete the tasks at hand."

In McNeil's words, the DLP gives the students the best of both worlds. "If you only go to McGhee-Tyson, you will still be able to network with others around the country, but you will miss out on the opportunity to build relationships with your McEntire Swamp Fox Family," she said.

"Those are the important relationships that really sustained me throughout the in-residence portion because those are the people that I work with."