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Airman Leadership School adapts to deliver curriculum to Airmen during pandemic

Airmen during Airman Leadership School seated and socially distanced in an auditorium.

Airmen from the Airman Leadership School during a base visit with Lt. Gen. Gene Kirkland, Air Force Sustainment Center commander, and Chief Master Sgt. David Flosi, AFSC command chief, Sept. 22, 2020, at Hill Air Force Base, Utah. Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the Hill AFB schoolhouse adapted its curriculum in order to continue with in-residence professional military education. (U.S. Air Force photo by Cynthia Griggs)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- Nine months ago, Airman Leadership School Class 20-C was graduating at about the same time the COVID-19 pandemic was bringing the nation to a standstill.

Hill Air Force Base, along with the rest of the world, has become a different place since then, compelling base agencies such as ALS to find new ways of operating during this “new normal.”

ALS is the critical first step of professional military education for Air Force junior-enlisted Airmen and focuses on developing leadership, the profession of arms and effective communication skills.

As bases resumed their schools following temporary closures due to the pandemic, many of them opted to deliver their curriculum to Airmen online.

Master Sgt. Shane Polk, Hill’s ALS commandant, said he and his team wanted to find a way to continue with its in-residence training.

“We said ‘Let’s not say no so quickly,’ or ‘We can’t do that.’ Instead, let’s look at ways we can do things,” Polk said. “There’s so much value added to in-residence school, such as networking, and we wanted to continue to give our Airmen the full ALS experience.”

The ALS staff worked with the Air Force’s Thomas N. Barnes Center for Enlisted Education to modify the curriculum, focusing on subjects Airmen really need “to be a leader in today’s Air Force.”

Polk said they removed “downtime” from the curriculum by asking Airmen to do physical fitness on their own time and they scaled down the course’s group projects.

Now, the curriculum is really focused in on leadership and mission, making sure that Airmen understand how they fit into the overall Air Force mission.

As a result, the course schedule was shortened from 24 to 17 days.

In order to keep Airmen safe and healthy, class sizes were cut in half. Social distancing, hand washing, sanitizing and mask protocols were mandated as well.

Due to the shortened course length, more classes were added to the academic year to keep student throughput consistent with pre-pandemic levels.

ALS officially resumed in May. Since Class 20-C graduated last March, an additional 80 “future supervisors” have completed the course and student feedback has been supportive.

Polk said the process has been a “total team effort” and he’s thankful leadership has allowed his team to rethink how to deliver the ALS education to Airmen.

“You only get Airman Leadership School one time in your Air Force career,” he said. “It’s valuable for the students to get in-person feedback so they have the tools to be good supervisors when they graduate.”