Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Air Command and Staff College

Yesterday I got an email that changed my life and its direction forever.

In order to progress in the Air Force, the system requires that you check certain boxes along your career. One of those boxes is to become an Instructor Pilot in a major weapon system--in my case, the C-130. My first C-130 assignment was to Yokota Air Base, in Tokyo, Japan. To those of you that have been reading for a while, you know that my tour in Japan was miserable, and I cashed in every chip I had to get out of there and come back to the US. I had an instructor school slot for the summer of 2001, in my last year at Yokota. At the same time they were looking for volunteers to go teach at Pilot Training. I turned my slot in, left the box unchecked, and left Japan.

The last thing my assignment officer told me was that he hoped I udnerstood that I would never be promoted above the rank of Major.

The following three years were the best of my career. I not only excelled as an instructor, but I loved it with all of my heart. I quickly advanced through the ranks of command in the squadron, and left there after three years as a Major to go do my staff tour at my current assignment. By taking the staff job, I ensured that I would never fly the C-130 again, and that box would never get checked.

Another box to check is called "Developmental Education." During your years as a Captain, you are required to attend Squadron Officer's School, a five-week course at Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. Another option is to do it in correspondence, but those who do that are rolling the dice on making Major. For the most part, pilots are guaranteed a slot to attend the course in residence. Those who go generally are promoted, those who don't have a shot, but it is considerably less than those who go in person. When you become a Major, your next Developmental Education course is Air Command and Staff College. I completed mine in correspondence almost immediately, because the chances of me going in residence were so small (due to my lack of an Instructor qualification in the C-130) that I was hoping getting it out of the way would increase my eligibility for Lieutenant Colonel. I applied for acceptance to the full ten-month college, but those slots are usually reserved for "fast burners" who are on their way to Colonel ranks. Without the IP box checked, and without the in-residence box checked, my chances of promotion were about 10%.

My current job is a career graveyard. Over the past two years I had come to accept that I was at the pinnacle of my career, and that my next assignment would likely be my last. I came into work yesterday after taking a week off to celebrate Odie's Baptism and checked my email.

I worked backwards, for some reason, from the most recent to the oldest. As I plowed through the 100 or so emails, I kept coming across congratulatory messages from friends I hadn't heard from for a while. I sped up, and eventually found what they were talking about. It was an email from the Air Command and Staff College.

I got in.

The promotion rate to Lieutenant Colonel for pilots who have graduated from ACSC is 98%.

In one email my career went from being pretty much over to pretty successful.

There are catches, of course. It is a 10-month class. You get a Master's Degree at the end of it. You have to learn how to speak a foreign language. And you have to live in Montgomery, Alabama. I have a wife and three kids.

I really don't have a burning desire to shove my kids into a school for one year, nor do I feel like forcing SW to give up her job here and move into an apartment for a year. So it's starting to look like they'll stay here while I go to school. We're still not quite sure how that will work out.

I don't know how, in a million years, I got accepted. I put my chances at about one in a hundred when I applied. There are questions as to what will happen afterwards--as to whether or not I will be flying again or be a staff weenie for the rest of my career.

But for now--I'm pretty friggin' happy.

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