ASMC visits...The 364th Comptroller Training Flight, Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
Sheppard AFB is the largest Air Force training base and the most diversified in the Air Education and Training Command, reaching everything from flying to aircraft maintenance to medical specialties. It is just scant miles south of the Oklahoma border, and oil wells and cattle dot the rather flat landscape.
The 82nd Training Wing, commanded by Brigadier General Michael Collings, conducts all of the technical training on the base, while the 80th Flight Training Wing trains NATO pilots. Normally, there are up to 7,000 students (occasionally even more) in residence.
The Comptroller Training Flight, part of the 782nd Training Group, is a small but very significant entity on the base. Comptroller training has been conducted here for 47 years; however, because of a training realignment, the school is in the process of moving to Keesler AFB, Mississippi, where it officially will start resident training courses in November 2002.
I was met on Monday morning, December 17, by Major Lester Weilacher, Flight Commander, accompanied by Master Sergeant Scott Gilmore, Flight Superintendent, who was to be my mentor throughout the visit. We spent the first hour getting me up to speed on the mission, goals, and scope of the educational activities of the flight.
The mission of the flight is to "develop, conduct and evaluate comptroller training to produce mission-ready financial management personnel to gaining commanders." The goals in support of the mission are to provide quality graduates for worldwide customers, reduce the cost of delivering graduates from training programs, improve the overall health and fitness of the workforce, maintain a safe working environment, and improve the quality of life within the flight.
The school offers a full range of enlisted and officer training and trains civilians as well in its Financial Management Staff Officer Course and various other supplemental technical training courses. It graduates approximately 1,350 students each year and receives its graduation targets and funding through the Air Education and Training Command (AETC), which is located at Randolph AFB, Texas.
The educational philosophy of the school is reflected in the ratio of instructors to students. For example, the enlisted financial management and comptroller apprentice course--the first course in which an an airman is enrolled after finishing the 6 weeks of basic training at Lackland AFB, Texas--normally is limited to 12 students. This gives time for lots of individual attention and keeps learning high. Further, the staff and faculty of the school (39 authorizations) normally are maintained at 100 percent fill to ensure the quality of the learning experience. This is unusual in today's austere climate; however, staffing standards don't allow manpower for course updates and curriculum maintenance, so some trade-offs occasionally must be made. Nonetheless, students at the Comptroller Training Flight are well cared for academically and in every other way.
The major course, in terms of introduction to Air Force financial management, is the initial enlisted Air Force Specialty Code (AFSC) generating course. Sixty-three academic days in length, the course graduates just under 250 students per year. It is called the Financial Management and Comptroller Apprentice Course and covers accounting principles, accounts receivable, baselevel accounting, Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS) accounting, travel pay, military pay, and disbursing. The Air Force has designated the apprentice level as Skill Level 3.
I was fortunate to be able to observe one of these classes in session. The 11 young airmen (both male and female) were close to graduation. Their instructor, Staff Sergeant Catherine Woods (who obviously was experienced from several overseas assignments) lectured on contingency operations. This was real-world information that will be of very tangible use to these young graduates (and, I might add, reflects a trend in all of the DoD comptroller and financial institutions to stress the rigors of deployment, since it has become a likely part of any military career). I also was able to observe the same group later in the week in a simulated office environment as they honed their customer service skills. It was obvious that they had learned well!
Skill Level 5, the next step in the Air Force's enlisted proficiency progression, is attained by completing a two-volume, hard-copy correspondence course. This is taken at the individual's duty station and is distributed and administered by the Air Force Institute for Advanced Distributed Learning, which is located in Maxwell AFB, Alabama. As of yet, it is not available on the Internet or in computer-readable format. An individual must successfully complete this course within 2 years of his or her first assignment. The course is written and updated on a continuous basis by the Comptroller Training Flight at Sheppard AFB.
Skill Level 7 (craftsman) combines resident and correspondence study and has a 10-academic-day school component. Approximately 350 individuals a year graduate from this course. This training includes contingency preparation, contingency operations, appointment and duties of agents, and fund certification and payment, as well as military pay and travel entitlements. All modules are designed to train combat-ready comptroller personnel.
On the officer side, the school teaches a basic financial management officer course that runs approximately 13 weeks (66 academic days). The course covers government funds, fiscal law, financial services office operations, financial analysis, cost and economic analysis, and acquisition. There are about 190 graduates per year. Again, I was able to observe a class being taught, this one by Mr. Marvin Ports of the Officer Financial Course faculty. He lectured on accounting liaison and, again, it was obvious that the instructor had great in-depth expertise in Air Force financial management and was passing along information that would be of great value later in each student's career.
Next in the hierarchy of officer courses is the Financial Management Staff Officer Course. This is a 5-week course and is most interesting in that the class composition consists of career officers, senior noncommissioned officers (NCOs), and Air Force civilian employees. Approximately 150 students a year complete the course, which concentrates on broad functions of comptrollership and management.
The class I sat in on exhibited the spirit and camaraderie that is typical of this course. Lots of interaction was occurring. The class members seemed both genuinely to like and respect each other, and the atmosphere was really upbeat. I listened to a guest speaker from the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force (SAF/FMC), and then we all headed out for a class lunch at the local catfish place.
I learned that the class was going to visit a senior citizens home later in the day to sing and distribute candy to residents and that the class also had collected money to donate to an interfaith group in Wichita Falls that helps the very needy. It was a nice holiday project and demonstrates the great public service spirit of these students.
Late on the first day of my visit, I went to physical conditioning (the Air Force version of PT). It was truly awesome! Virtually every trainee on the base turned out for roll call at 1700 (5:00 pm). The base roads were blocked off, and after some calisthenics the two-mile (more or less) run began in earnest. Groups of two to three hundred young students at a time would be released to run the course, and pretty soon there were several groups pounding away, all students running the distance at their own individual pace. I ran along with the second group, and it was like being in the ArmyTen-Miler with everyone dressed alike! I enjoyed the run and got several good-natured comments about the "old guy" running. I think most of the students enjoyed it as well.
During the run, I noticed several NCOs in charge of various groups of students and asked about this. These personnel are called Military Training Leaders (MTL) and are separate from--but complement--the academic staffs of the various training schoolhouses on the base. The Air Force has established a four-phase program to indoctrinate non-prior Service personnel into the Air Force once they have finished basic training.
For the first 28 days, the uniform is worn on and off duty, physical conditioning is mandatory, all meals are eaten in the dining facility, and no alcohol and no tobacco are possessed or consumed. During days 29 to 44, civilian clothes may be worn off duty (but not off base), one meal a day may be eaten outside the dining facility, personal items may be displayed in the dorm (yes, dorm) room, and limited access to alcohol is permitted (but no tobacco, period!). During days 45 to 180, a student can go off base in civilian clothing and can smoke off duty when not in uniform. From days 181 to departure, self-supervised physical conditioning is permitted--but no PDAs (public displays of affection) or coed visitations are permitted between personnel.
In addition to the military and staff officer courses, the school offers a number of short courses of a technical nature, which include Military Pay (12 academic days), Accounting Liaison (12 academic days), Financial Management Analysis (18 academic days), Integrated Accounts Payable (5 academic days), and Travel (12 academic days). These courses are open to military and civilian personnel and, in theory, quotas might be available for use by personnel of other Services (although this has not happened).
In particular, the financial analysis course looked like it covered a lot of the things I used to do as an action officer in the Pentagon and would be a good one to enroll in for any civilian employee destined to work at that level.
I noticed several indicators that the Comptroller Training Flight was an outstanding organization. These included Captain Robert Jacks' winning the AETC Comptroller Educator of the Year award and having his nomination forwarded to compete at the Air Force level. (Captain Jacks is Chief of Officer Training.) Also included is the successful application and graduation of three of the Comptroller Training Flight NCOs to Officer Training School. Major Weilacher was driving to Maxwell AFB personally to see two of his faculty members graduate on the last day of my visit. This will mean a lot to all members of the flight.
The Basic Financial Management Officer Course on three occasions set the State of Texas blood drive record for the American Red Cross. The eleven students attending the enlisted Financial Management and Comptroller Apprentice Course collected over $700 to support the Toys-for-Tots campaign of the Wichita Falls Fire Department. The organization certainly lives up to its statement of values: "The Comptroller Training Flight is committed to the Air Force Core Values of Integrity, Service Before Self, and Excellence in all we do, as well as the following values: the mission comes first: but we need people who demonstrate professionalism in action while applying customer focus, empowerment, efficiency and innovation, as together we constantly improve the quality of service we provide. This is who we are--who we must be."
My visit was all tco short. I especially thank MSgt Gilmore for keeping me on track; Mr. Jerry Haynes, who has taken on the task of moving the flight to Keesler (and who showed me Burkburnett and the Circle-H), Mr. Paul Harder, who explained the intricacies of instructor scheduling a year in advance, and all of the instructors who let me sit in on their classes.
I got to leave one day ahead of "Exodus." Had I stayed one more day, I would have been among the 7,000-plus students who boarded buses on December 20 to head for the Dallas/Ft. Worth and Oklahoma City airports. An impressive exercise in logistics that I was glad to miss!
Mr. Raines received a bachelor's degree from the University of Connecticut, a master's from the College of William and Mary in Virginia and has done doctoral study at the Virginia Tech Graduate Center in Northern Virginia. He is currently serving as the Associate Director for Professional Development for ASMC. He is a member of the Association for Government Accountants, and has twice been President of the Virginia Tech Graduate Center Phi Delta Kappa chapter, an education association. He is a Certified Government financial Manager (CGFM). His awards include the Army Humanitarian Service Award, The Army Staff Badge, and the Army Superior Civilian Service Award He is a runner, outdoorsman, and avid motorcyclist in his spare time.