All noncommissioned officers can now apply to teach at Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps detachments across the United States and Puerto Rico, opening a job opportunity that previously shut out most enlisted airmen.

In the past, only NCOs who worked in the personnel and administration fields were allowed to serve in collegiate ROTC programs. The Air Force hopes that exposing cadets to more diverse enlisted fields will offer more insight into that side of the force, get them to consider a broader range of career options and strengthen officer-enlisted relationships.

“Expanding the applicant base will provide cadets with firsthand observation of what the enlisted force is capable of and their vital role,” said Chief Master Sgt. Nichole Dunton, the senior enlisted leader at Air Force ROTC headquarters, in a news release Monday.

Enlisted airmen chosen for the special duty job will be assigned to any of the Air Force’s 145 ROTC detachments around the United States and in Puerto Rico for three-year stints starting in fall 2022. More than 1,100 colleges and universities host ROTC programs and band together with others nearby to create detachments.

The service said in March it had about 275 enlisted ROTC staffers.

Staff sergeants and technical sergeants could already teach and mentor prospective officers at the U.S. Air Force Academy and Officer Training School, but not at ROTC. That began to change with a pilot program last year.

Eight enlisted airmen with the academy’s leadership training program headed out to college campuses to shape the new ROTC instructor job, known as specialty code 8B300.

Those chosen as training instructors will advise the detachment commander on cadet academics, professional development, military training and discipline, and handle office tasks like commissioning paperwork. They’ll also look out for the students’ health and welfare as they get to know cadets.

Instructors guide cadets through two years of classwork on military life and leadership, plus physical training, before moving on to summertime field training and another two years of further education in leadership, communication skills and defense policy.

“I feel like I have been given the opportunity to sharpen the tip of the spear,” said Master Sgt. Tony Thomas, who participated in the test run and is now a sub-region superintendent for Detachment 605 at North Carolina A&T State University.

Thomas, who served in maintenance before switching to the personnel field, leads 14 NCOs who support seven detachment commanders and over 400 cadets.

“I have the ability to provide young adults with the tools that shaped my career and guide them on their journey to become the best person and the best airman or guardian they can be,” he said.

ROTC is now the most popular avenue to becoming an Air Force officer, bringing in about 40 percent of new officers after graduation, according to service data. Around 64,800 officers — nearly four times fewer than enlisted personnel — worked in the active-duty Air Force as of Sept. 30.

Rachel Cohen is the editor of Air Force Times. She joined the publication as its senior reporter in March 2021. Her work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Frederick News-Post (Md.), Air and Space Forces Magazine, Inside Defense, Inside Health Policy and elsewhere.

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