Anchoring an officer commissioning program’s memory

Stored for nearly three years, the relocation of the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center’s Drosendahl Memorial this month to the running track provides a weathered reminder of the Air National Guard’s Academy of Military Science officer commissioning program that’s no longer on campus.

Without this gray granite stone, without the seven inscribed AMS graduate names of those alumni who died serving the nation, without some other traces, only a few staff would recall TEC once having officer candidates, said the Deputy Commander, Lt. Col. David Meece.

“The longer that we go, it will become more and more a faint and distant memory,” said Meece, who occasionally walks TEC’s cement sidewalks to the faded, gold-painted bars and purple letters that marked AMS candidates’ daily formations. He was a 2001 AMS graduate as well as an AMS staffer from 2003 to 2006 – which he considers among the best assignments of his career.

14,641 officers had earned their commissions before AMS left in 2009 for a combined location with the regular Air Force at Maxwell Air Force Base in Alabama. Among them, future elected officials, generals, an Olympic diver, and even Dean Martin Jr.

Nevertheless, the newest location for the memorial seems a peaceful, open and reflective space, just trackside of Airmen jogging during their fitness runs, with the Smoky Mountains in the distance. The memorial initially sat on the other end of McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base; then it was relocated to the parade field, which was converted into a parking lot.

Some runners might view the memorial as a way to mark their laps or inspire to read the smaller stone that tells Drosendahl’s story. TEC’s honor to these men can also symbolize the change and sacrifice that are part and parcel of leadership.

Much like the weathered sidewalk paint, the officers’ memorial is showing its maturity, with a patina as well as a few dings and scratches that won’t be scrubbed or polished away. The campus has always been a mix of old and new. It started from a World War II-era hangar and recently built a 46,871 square foot classroom and dormitory facility that stands out among its brick buildings with names and memorials to the past. There is that reputation for innovation.

For those who don’t know, AMS saw life at TEC in 1971 as the only commissioning program for officers at an Air National Guard base. It is an important distinction during a time when no curriculum existed for such a program except in the regular Air Force.

“The Air National Guard units were commissioning officers, either by sending them to the Air Force’s commissioning program or by giving them a direct commission,” said retired Chief Master Sgt. George Vitzthum, in a scrapbook he gave to Public Affairs.

Vitzthum, who instructed the Officer Preparatory Academy program in its beginning years, said the big problem then was that direct commission officers received no formal training. That’s where Maj. Gen. I.G. Brown, then Director of the Air National Guard, asked the staff to come up with a program.

OPA’s success was highlighted in the September 1971 issue of Airman Magazine: “With OPA, every officer in the Guard, after a certain cutoff date, will have some exposure to basic officer military training, something we have not had,” said General Brown in that interview. “OPA will give us an opportunity to observe our young men as they come into the Guard, to see if they meet the standards of the Guard.”

The first classes were developed and instructed by enlisted Airmen. Commissioned officers took over, and the name changed to AMS in 1973. Nearly all Air National Guard officers earned a commission through the campus. Officers who received no pre-commissioning training before AMS were offered the Seminar for Direct Commission Officers, which TEC developed and ran from 1976 to 1978. Three hundred officers took that seminar.

Fast-forward to today, the campus remained busy but muted in comparison. Unlike enlisted professional military education, officer candidates once marched everywhere. There is no holler and hustle required for EPME. The ropes course that challenged candidates with its obstacles is gone. Other differences may only be noticeable to former graduates, who are now returning more often for training.

TEC’s professional continuing education is bringing many AMS alumni back on campus. The placement of the Air War College Seminar in 2013, followed by the General Officer Support Staff Course, and other workshops, are bringing the largest numbers of officers seen since AMS left.

Another favorable circumstance is the new facility’s dedication in July to Air Force Gen. Craig R. McKinley, a former Chief of the National Guard Bureau. And just this month, 1993 AMS graduate, Col. Kerry Lovely, took command of the TEC. Then, there’s the new spot for the Drosendahl Memorial.

2nd Lt. Robert H. Drosendahl was a 1972 AMS graduate and a New Jersey Air National Guard member who flew the F-105B Thunderchief. Officials said that he ditched that aircraft into the Chesapeake Bay, March 3, 1974, during a training mission. His body and plane vanished, but he continues to anchor the Air National Guard’s officers to TEC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s