My AECP experience

GOODFELLOW AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- On April 27, 2007, I completed the most rewarding, demanding journey of my nine-year military career as a Russian Cryptologic Linguist and Communications Computer Systems Controller. On that day, I graduated from Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala. and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the United States Air Force.

However, I would not have had the opportunity to earn my gold bar if it were not for the Airman Education and Commissioning Program - an incredible program which allowed me, a relatively young, married staff sergeant with three children, to suddenly become a full-time college student and finish a bachelor's degree while remaining on active duty.

Of course, the word 'suddenly' implies an almost magical connotation to an application process that, in reality, proved to be the most challenging aspect of the entire program.
For those interested in pursuing a commission down this path, you must be prepared to utilize every leadership and management tool in your personal arsenal, especially time management and attention to detail, in order to submit the most competitive package -- on time!

In order to abate any unnecessary discouragement during this stage, I would like to offer some advice regarding the importance of following the instructions laid out in the AECP Newsletter, which can be found at documents/AECPFY2007NewsletterAug07.doc.

The first thing I would tell any Airman interested in this program is that they must satisfy the criteria! In order to even apply for this program, you must ensure that you have at least 30 semester hours of graded coursework at a regionally accredited school with a minimum 3.0 grade point average. This could pose a challenge to any Airman given the current ops tempo and geographic stratification, especially if the interested member has limited or no college experience, or whose grades need some work.

Additionally, the technical, nursing, and foreign language/area study programs each have specific prerequisite courses upon which your one- to three-year degree plan will be based. Throw in any necessary waiver applications, the Air Force Officer Qualification Test, the commander interview and career review (AF IMT 56), just to name a few, and you can see that planning far in advance is critical. I was lucky enough to have performed extremely well at the Defense Language Institute because the credits and grades I earned there served as the primary academic foundation for the area studies degree I pursued at the University of Washington. So, fellow linguists, take advantage of the premier education you received in Monterey and pursue a full scholarship with all benefits to complete an important degree for yourself and the Air Force.

The second thing I would offer to an aspiring officer candidate is that they must be proactive! You must realize that the application package you send to the AECP board is a direct reflection of you - your commitment, your character, your potential. Give everything that you have to this process by actively communicating and coordinating with the base education office, your supervisor, your squadron, the Military Personnel Flight, the university you wish to attend, and the AFROTC detachment to which you will be administratively assigned.

This is where initiative, dedication and accountability really come into play because you, the applicant, are the only link between the aforementioned entities and your goal of completing an accurate package. In my experience, no one will call you to check on the status of a certain form or prerequisite or remind you of a deadline because that responsibility rests solely on your shoulders.

Looking back, I realize just how much of a test of my leadership ability this was because an Air Force officer must be able to set a goal, accept full responsibility for its accomplishment, and follow through until the mission is complete.

The final bit of advice I will offer is unequivocally crucial - meet the deadlines! No matter how stellar your package may be or which university has accepted you, nothing will happen if you miss a suspense date for anything. Pay special attention to the waiver packages having to be postmarked no later than a month before the actual application package is due. Having to apply early to a university, accomplish any necessary waivers, and coordinate between the deadlines of so many disassociated institutions in order to have everything come together during the holiday season requires a sense of urgency and timeliness that is critical to the success of any leader. Let me tell you, there is no better feeling outside of being selected that will match the relief and excitement you will feel when your application package is sent off on time because you will have definitely earned that smile.

After the application process was finally over and I was notified in May 2005 that I had been one of the eight Liberal Arts students selected by the board, life in the AECP was wonderful. I was able to return home and attend the University of Washington in Seattle. I reported to AFROTC Detachment 910 in September 2005 and met several exceptional Airmen eager to help me settle in as a student. Since the AECP switched from having students earn their commission through ROTC to OTS, my job was simply to go to school full-time. As far as my military obligations were concerned, I was required to attend a physical training session once a week with the cadre, wear my uniform once a week, and help out around the office during any breaks between quarters.

In reality, I was a college student who did not have to scrape by on pennies from a menial job or burden my financial future with a massive amount of student loans. Instead, I was able to take care of my family without struggling to make ends meet and concentrate on learning about Russia, Central Asia and Eastern Europe. In fact, I went on temporary duty for almost three months at the end of 2006 to study at the Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, in order to finish my degree. Once I graduated in December 2006, I moved on to OTS Jan. 30, 2007. Over the subsequent thirteen weeks, I was immersed in an intense leadership laboratory that taught me a lot about myself and my leadership ability. As the top graduate, I feel that I really was able to take something away from that training, but that is something I will have to save for another time.

Overall, the AECP has been the most incredible experience of my professional life and I would recommend it to any airman who has aspirations of becoming an officer in the Air Force. It allowed me the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of earning a degree and commission -- goals that can be reached by any enlisted airman who has the record, the character, and the desire to go after them.