Commentary: Experiences step up our insight

One of the biggest things you hear around the U.S. Air Force these days is accelerating change, so you read stuff like leveraging inclusion, innovation, and diversity.

We’re talking about open-minded approaches that welcome the input of all service members.

But how do you get that insight? We may repeatedly be looking at issues and asking ourselves, “How can that person, just because they look different than me, possibly influence this mission?” Maybe it’s unanswered because we don’t take the time to appreciate personal experiences.

I think that change can come from more than appreciating our apparent differences, and here’s an example for you.

When I was building a deck at my camp several years ago, I worked off a set plan-and-materials list for a standard cantilever design, which I had selected from a builder’s book to use. And I was looking to purchase precut wood runners for the deck’s stairs.  Next time you are in a lumber store, you can locate them to get an idea of what I’m describing.

I thought that I had a pretty good idea from my plans and the prebuilt stuff on how it would go. I had worked as a carpenter’s apprentice at one time, so I felt comfortable that I had the skills and knowledge to get it done by myself quickly.

However, shortly after starting the project, a close family member had a terrible automobile accident and broke dozens of bones on their left side. After some months in the hospital, they were in a wheelchair and disabled.

Suddenly, my deck-building plan did not work. Through that person’s eyes, my whole way of looking at things changed, not only in how someone can climb a staircase but in how someone with a disability views the entire world. How do they take a shower? How do they get in and out of a car? How do they go to the restroom or get to the store?

That experience made me an innovative stair designer. It made me study and think of step design for the disabled because the easy steps I planned to purchase were too steep for someone within my circle.

I had to change things like stringer height, tread width, rise, run, and angle; all-the-while, factoring in another’s input and abilities. How high could they lift their leg once they started walking again? What kind of rail could a disabled person grab? My design and construction required that inclusion to be useful and allow for diverse physical abilities.

The project came out great in the end. I prefer the custom steps over the pre-made ones, and my disabled loved one got up them safely. Building them took some research and extra work, but it allowed me to involve those with different perspectives in the process. My diversity and inclusion improved usability for everyone. Someone separated and isolated by standards and templates felt better, rather than taken for granted by what’s quick and convenient.

So my advice is this: when you want to make a change, you need to dig a bit deeper than the noticeable differences between us. Ensure you listen to everyone’s understanding and how those experiences provide a viewpoint and way of doing things outside the pattern. In that way, everyone can climb up to the view.

Lankford EPME center reflects on fiscal year’s adversity, agility, victories

Virtual instructor

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. — The U.S. Air Force’s enlisted professional military education center in East Tennessee looked back at the Fiscal Year 2020 this week to reflect on the adversity, innovations, and accomplishments, perhaps like no other during its 52 years.

The Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford Enlisted Professional Military Education Center is the Air National Guard’s total force PME center that graduated thousands of students since last October, despite pandemic restrictions.

They reported 1,411 NCOA graduates and 397 Airman Leadership School graduates during the fiscal year. That involved 11 classes, including six newly designed virtual in-resident-remote EPME classes and five traditional EPME classes.

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Future cyber defenders graduate to shape total U.S. Air Force

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – U.S. Air Force students ready to cross the stage, September 22, 2020, during the U.S. Air Force Cyber Protect and Defend Course graduation ceremony held at the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee. The ceremony broadcasted online and featured guest speaker Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, director of Air National Guard Operations. (U.S. Air National Guard photo/Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith)

MCGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. – Graduating students of the U.S. Air Force Cyber Protect and Defend Course took hold of diplomas, September 22 at McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base while those present and online celebrated the completion of the first class with the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center.

What they learned would undoubtedly defend the nation from cyber-attacks, officials said.

“What you are going to do is as important as in any mission that we do in the Air Force today,” said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Keith G. MacDonald, director of Air National Guard Operations.

The featured graduation speaker, General MacDonald, congratulated the 18 students and recognized the organizations, leaders, and people who worked together to bring the course to TEC for the Air Force. A recording of the ceremony is available online at

Continue reading “Future cyber defenders graduate to shape total U.S. Air Force”

Virtual USAF marathon runners cross the chalk in Knoxville

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Airmen assigned to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center in East Tennessee and their families cheered for each other at the Knoxville Greenway on September 19 during the full, half, 10K, 5K, and 1K race of the Virtual Air Force Marathon.

TEC’s Morale Committee sponsored the event as a means to get together outdoors safely during the pandemic and to celebrate the Air Force’s birthday.

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Longest-serving on TEC staff, Billie Laux, dies at 85

FRIENDSVILLE, Tenn. — Billie Laux, who provided decades of service and support to the Air National Guard training and education center, died Sunday, May 24, at 85.

Laux was hired in 1968 by the Director of the Air National Guard to serve as a civilian administrator at the ANG’s first NCO Academy. She was among its six initial instructors and staff, including a deputy commandant, U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford, and a commandant/commander U.S. Air Force Maj. Ed Morrisey. Continue reading “Longest-serving on TEC staff, Billie Laux, dies at 85”

Education center staff, faculty innovate at Thinkshop workshop

Staff, faculty, and guests tossed a small cloth ball in a circle in a classroom at the Air National Guard’s I.G. Brown Training and Education Center on McGhee Tyson Air Guard Base in East Tennessee, Oct. 10, 2018, as part of the day’s hands-on exercises in the U.S. Fleet Forces Illuminate Thinkshop.

TEC’s organizers said that they scheduled the workshop today and tomorrow as a way to encourage and promote innovation on campus and across the U.S. Air Force. About two dozen Airmen attended the classes.

The U.S. Fleet Forces said that it initially developed Illuminate Thinkshop for Sailors and Marines. Its “unconventional” approach helps organizations “break down institutionalized barriers and leverage the tacit knowledge of their people,” officials said.

Thinkshop officials called the training valuable toward ways to “foster a culture of critical thinking, creative problem solving, and collective ownership.” Innovation is among senior defense leaders’ top priorities.

EPME Center closes fiscal year with graduations, accomplishments

Faculty and staff at the U.S. Air Force’s enlisted professional military education center in East Tennessee said that the graduations of three EPME classes last month closed out a fiscal year of significant accomplishments.

Classes NCO Academy 18-6, Airman Leadership School 18-10, and ALS Blended Learning Course 18-11, all graduated EPME on the last week of September. In total, the Chief Master Sergeant Paul H. Lankford EPME Center graduated 1,894 students over the previous 12 months.

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The best, worst selfie

Whenever new students come to the Air National Guard’s training and education center in East Tennessee (very often), I hear faculty and leadership talking with them about dos and don’ts while on campus. They want to set expectations, they want newcomers to be successful, and they want them to get the most out of their experience. I have a role as a public affairs briefer, despite not teaching anything in the classroom. How will their stories unfold here? How will their actions in the community and with their cell phone cameras and social media while TDY become something more to me than a potential career-ending, wrong decision?

Continue reading “The best, worst selfie”