Airey NCOA reopens at Tyndall

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Three years, one month and seven days. Following Hurricane Michael’s devastation of Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, on Oct. 10, 2018, Paul W. Airey Noncommissioned Officer Academy was unable to host students in-residence. On Nov. 15, 2021, Airey NCOA opened their doors for 48 students to sit in classroom instruction.

NCOA is the second level of enlisted professional military education and prepares technical sergeants to be professional, war-fighting Airmen and Guardians who can manage and lead units in the employment of air and space power. Airey NCOA is one of 11 NCOAs worldwide.

“Being here in person has a benefit,” said Tech. Sgt. James Stringfield, U.S. Space Force’s 73rd Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance Squadron, Detachment 6, NCO in charge of space systems analysis team. “I feel from week one to now, the class has definitely started to gel more. Being in person versus virtually, it's kind of like, once you sign off, you can just ignore everyone, whereas here, we plan to do different things.”

In conjunction with hosting 48 students in-residence, both TDY and from Tyndall, four instructors are also teaching students virtually in what Airey NCOA is calling the “parallel modality”. The two courses are separate, running at the same time, with occasionally a guest speaker joining both classes together online.

“While Tyndall AFB is still in ‘Installation of the Future’ rebuild mode, the number of students we are able to accommodate on the base remains limited,” said Chief Master Sgt. Kristina Higdon, Airey NCOA commandant. “With that being said, the AF is counting on our school to educate our future [senior NCOs]. In an effort to optimize our operational capacity to assist in meeting the needs of the EPME enterprise, we will continue to leverage virtual and in-residence modalities until we are able to bring our full student load back to the base.”

Airey NCOA has received renovations in order to modernize the building as part of Tyndall transition to the “Installation of the Future,” representing a nearly $10 million dollar investment in professional military education. The main structure of the building remained, with several updates, including being retro-fitted for high-speed internet.

“Our building’s damage paled in comparison to many others on Tyndall,” said Higdon. “In fact, for many months after Hurricane Michael, this building was used for a variety of purposes to support Team Tyndall Airmen including lodging, office space, and so on.”

While the academy was planned to reopen earlier in 2021, an increase in COVID-19 cases forced a sudden change in plans.

“We had to delay an entire class because the new restrictions popped up,” said Tech. Sgt. Lucas Horn, Airey NCOA instructor. “We've just had to be so adaptable and so flexible with this. Every person that's come here, they've all contributed something that has made this work. We're all very different and I think that the diversity of our group has been a real benefit to get this to happen.”

The Academy is slated to have the first full in-residence student body in 2023. The staff has been challenged with multiple obstacles, but continues to overcome, adapt and change in order to educate the future leaders of the U.S. Air Force.

“The group of Airmen that comprises Team Airey has worked tremendously hard to get us to where we are today,” Hidgon emphasized. “There’s no guide book or AFI that teaches our Airmen how to stand up an academy, yet through their grit, vision, and insistence on excellence, they’ve accomplished something quite beautiful to witness. We’ve still got plenty of work to do around here. We’re certainly not finished, but we’re light-years from where we’ve come.”

The first in-residence class since Hurricane Michael graduated from Airey NCOA on Dec. 21, 2021, marking a milestone for the academy and Team Tyndall in the movement forward to becoming the U.S. Air Force’s Installation of the Future.

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