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On target, on time: Waiver program helps airmen sew on stripes

LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. (ACCNS) --   Five hundred eighty promotion selectees in Air Combat Command, most unable to attend required enlisted Professional Military Education due to deployments, have been able to sew on their ranks on time under the PME waiver program.

The program allows newly selected E-5, E-6 and E-9 promotees who have not attended PME to apply for a waiver allowing them to sew on the new rank and then attend the required PME within 179 days. MAJCOM commanders are the approval authority for waiver requests beyond 179 days. Approval authority was delegated to the major commands from the Air Force headquarters level in December 2002.

With the delegation of the waiver authority, it is important to remember that the overarching policy of completing enlisted PME before assuming the next higher rank remains unchanged, said Chief Master Sgt. Carol Dockery of the Air Force Headquarters Personnel Directorate. However, we also recognize that there may be times when operational deployments or humanitarian circumstances may warrant a temporary waiver. Since the MAJCOM is in the best position to make that call, we want to put the final decision making authority at that level.

Since Air Force headquarters implemented the Professional Military Education Waiver policy in November 2001, Air Combat Commands Personnel Directorate has coordinated more than 600 enlisted PME waivers.

With 580 approved, thats a 99 percent approval rate.

In most of the waivers we approved, the applicant couldnt attend PME because of an extended TDY or deployment, said Chief Master Sgt. Scotty Ashley, ACCs chief of enlisted force development and professional military education. They have already earned the promotion and their commanders have evaluated their ability to serve in the higher rank. We do everything we can to approve the waivers quickly to allow our troops to wear the new stripes on time.

With mission requirements at home base and abroad being at such an all time high, this program enables individuals to sew on on-time, even though they cant attend their required PME, he said. This is good for troop morale and aids significantly our force retention efforts, specifically in regards to staff sergeants.

Many of the applicants, like Staff Sgt. Colin Cannon of the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron, Pope Air Force Base, N.C., said they were relieved to learn about the program.

It wasnt my fault that I didnt attend PME before sewing on staff sergeant stripes, he said. I dont think that the Air Force should penalize airmen for circumstances out of their control.

Sergeant Cannon said his waiver was approved in only a few days. He sewed on his new rank last February.

Staff Sgt. Vernon Verschelden of the 49th Contracting Squadron, Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., lost his Airman Leadership School slot when his deployment was extended indefinitely. ACC approved his waiver application three weeks after it was submitted. He sewed on his staff sergeant stripes last March.

It was a relief, he said. The deployment was extended indefinitely, but I didnt have to worry when I would be able to pin on or how long it would take to get to ALS.

Like Sergeants Cannon and Verschelden, Staff Sgt. Seth Ehrlich of the 7th Equipment Maintenance Squadron, Dyess AFB, Texas, was unable to attend ALS due to extended temporary duty. His waiver was approved a month after it was submitted. He sewed on his staff sergeant stripes in July.

It felt awesome, he said. I didnt want to wait any longer than I already had.

Each waiver applicants immediate commander initiates the enlisted PME waiver for promotion and forwards it to the local Airman Leadership School flight chief and then through the servicing military personnel flight for an eligibility review. The MPF verifies the applicant meets normal promotion eligibility criteria and is qualified for promotion. From there, it is forwarded to the wing command chief and commander who endorses the request if it is fully documented and supported. After the wing level endorsement, the waiver goes back to the MPF, who will send the request to the MAJCOM Personnel Directorate.

Chief Ashley and his staff at the ACC Personnel Directorate, Senior Master Sgt. Robert Nolen and Master Sgt. Randall Kuenzi, assess the waivers and return those requests that dont warrant consideration.

Fortunately commanders and first sergeants have been very in tune with the requirements for submission of personnel who warrant waiver consideration, therefore, we have had to turn back very few, said Sergeant Nolen, superintendent of enlisted professional military education programs.

All the MAJCOMs send the approved waiver case files to the Air Force Personnel Center. AFPC updates the applicants promotion with a date of rank as of the individuals increment. The effective date becomes the date the waiver was approved at the MAJCOM.

Timely initiation of the waiver request is critical to on-time promotion, said Sergeant Kuenzi, NCOIC of enlisted PME programs. The unit should start the waiver request 90 days before projected promotion increment date since normal base-level processing can take anywhere from 15 to 30 days.

While an approved waiver allows the applicant to put on the new rank before attending PME, thats just the first step.

They still have to attend the required level of PME, Chief Ashley said. If they havent completed the appropriate level and do not have an approved PME waiver, they may not wear the new rank. So, if it looks like a member will not be able to attend PME prior to the projected promotion date -- through no fault of the member -- and the unit believes that a waiver is warranted, the unit needs to have the waiver request submitted in a timely manner to ensure on-time promotion.

These are our future leaders; we work closely with their commanders to ensure they obtain the tools theyll need to be successful. Also, maintaining high enlisted PME production is essential to meeting future training needs and does a lot to keep morale positive and our troops motivated.

The MAJCOM Personnel Directorates monitor the successful completion of enlisted PME for all airmen receiving waivers under this rule.

Commanders at all levels are responsible for ensuring completion of enlisted PME at the earliest possible date when the airman becomes available and must keep us informed of the progress or any scheduling difficulties, Chief Ashley said.

The ACC Personnel Directorate keeps track of the applicants to ensure they complete the training within 12 months of the waivers approval. Sergeants Cannon and Verschelden attended ALS in July, and Sergeant Ehrlich attended in September.