The Air Force Academy says its experiment with having senior noncommissioned officers serve as faculty is showing promise after its first year ― but needs much more study to decide if it is worth keeping.
The academy, based in Colorado Springs, Colorado, began the process of hiring SNCOs as accredited academic faculty instructors for the first time in 2019. Enlisted airmen previously taught at the academy on occasion, but they were not official faculty members.
This summer, it finished and released a report on its Enlisted Academic Faculty Program, the academy said in a Sept. 28 release. The report was written by Chief Master Sgt. Sean Milligan, Senior Master Sgt. Ecatarina Garcia and Senior Master Sgt. Gloria Kuzmicki — three of the academy’s four enlisted academic instructors.
“We need a few more years of data to fully appreciate the capability and sustainability of the program, but the initial findings are promising,” Chief Master Sgt. Sarah Sparks, the academy’s command chief, said in the release. “We believe the enlisted faculty has a positive effect on faculty members and cadets.”
Milligan, who teaches management part-time and manages the other enlisted instructors, said the program’s first year proved that the Air Force can select and hire qualified enlisted instructors and that they increase the faculty’s diversity. Milligan also said the experiment shows that the Air Force’s investment in enlisted airmen’s education can pay off by having those airmen teach cadets.
The Air Force’s report concluded that cadets would benefit by being exposed to more enlisted airmen in instructor roles, giving them a more diverse slate of perspectives to learn from.
“There’s a strong desire for cadets and young officers to have a more collaborative learning and [career] growth experience with enlisted airmen,” said Kuzmicki, who teaches behavioral sciences and leadership.
The report recommends adding more enlisted instructors in a methodical way.
“Slow and deliberate growth is likely to produce the most meaningful experience for cadets and enlisted instructors,” said Garcia, who teaches military strategic studies.
The fourth enlisted instructor, Senior Master Sgt. William Baez, teaches introductory statistics. He said that steadily expanding the enlisted instructor program will let it become an established career path for “any enlisted airman, regardless of their Air Force specialty.”
In another release this March profiling Kuzmicki, the academy said that a lengthy path took her to the academy’s classrooms.
She was headed for the ammunitions career field, but her intended career path was upset after she broke her hip in technical school. While having surgery to fix her hip, the doctors found abnormalities in her lab results that ended up revealing she had cartilage cancer in her shoulder blade.
Kuzmicki had a biopsy and partial shoulder bone removal at Wilford Hall Medical Center in San Antonio, Texas, which was successful and left her cancer-free.
“I fought to stay in service because I wanted to serve my country and provide a better life for my son,” Kuzmicki said in the March release.
She was reclassified and moved to the career field now called administration, where she provided administrative support to units — some of which were deployed — for 17 years.
Over the years, she took on more professional development and training tasks, and provided administrative support for ROTC cadets at Arizona State University for five years, which included advising the cadets on academics and providing her perspective as an enlisted airman.
This gave her a taste for teaching, she said, at a time when she was also pursuing her master’s degree.
She jumped at the chance to teach at the academy, and last fall started teaching leadership to 300 freshman, sophomore and junior cadets.
“This is amazing, it aligns with everything I went to school for," Kuzmicki said. "This is something I want to do and something I am passionate about.”
Stephen Losey is the air warfare reporter for Defense News. He previously covered leadership and personnel issues at Air Force Times, and the Pentagon, special operations and air warfare at Military.com. He has traveled to the Middle East to cover U.S. Air Force operations.