Getting cadets to graduation: A senior NCO speaks out on his special duty as an academy military trainer

  • Published
  • By Ray Bowden
  • U.S. Air Force Academy Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. – If you’re assigned to cadet squadron 12 at the Air Force Academy and need advice, talk to Master Sgt. Brian Kelsey. If you want to chat about skiing, rock climbing, his four children or woodworking, he’s good with that, too.

Kelsey is the squadron’s lead academy military trainer, one of more than 100 enlisted airmen leading, training and serving as military role models for the school’s 4,000 cadets, but there’s a lot more to the senior noncommissioned officer who meets you in his office in Vandenberg Hall. He’s also a security forces Airman. Kelsey enlisted in 2004 to put an end to “wondering what I was going to do,” and credits his years of military police work for teaching him to treat everyone equally and adapt to any situation, abilities he relies on to lead 110 cadets.

“You have to be different things to different people in security forces and as an AMT,” he said. “All cadets bring hopes, dreams, experiences and unique personalities with them and we never know what situation is going to walk through the door.”

Kelsey describes his off duty woodwork as “just tinkering,” but it seems like this hobby is a passion. He’s most proud of a headboard he designed containing “a lot of electronic pieces.”

“Woodwork is like working with a recipe, cooking and experimenting with ingredients to see what works best,” he said. “I like designing, using ingenuity and I take pride in ownership. I like to say, ‘Hey, I built that.”’

Kelsey likens woodwork design to his efforts to develop cadets.

“Cadets are here four years, so we get to know them as people, unlike other military training institutions with rapid turnover of students,” he said. “Being an AMT is about adapting my approach to the needs of each cadet. We all share the same goal: get to graduation.” 

Chief Master Sgt. Sarah Sparks, the Academy’s command chief, said, “No Airman stands alone, whether enlisted or commissioned.”

“Exposure to senior NCOs like Master Sgt. Kelsey, and the other AMTs who serve in this critical special duty adds to the collective strength of the Academy and our cadets,” she said. “The influence of our enlisted force on cadets, the men and women who will one day lead ‘us’ as officers, cannot be overestimated. It’s thrilling to see the teamwork and leadership shared between these NCOs and our cadets and to witness the impact it has on the Air Force.”  

Connecting with Cadets
Kelsey grew up in Missouri and Texas. He spent his childhood in the “Show Me State” with his brother on his grandparents’ 80-acre farmland, breaking speed records and the laws of physics on their bikes, exploring the green countryside. Later, his family moved to Belton, Texas within earshot of Fort Hood’s artillery training, where he attended Belton High and made the football and wrestling teams. The military presence in this small, central Texas city was “impossible to miss,” because of the Army’s artillery exercises.

 “Along with that, one of my coaches had to deploy so the football team understood the military pretty well,” he said.

Several members of Kelsey’s family served a term or two in the armed forces, including his great grandfather, a soldier in the Army Air Corps who later retired as a senior master sergeant.

“I enlisted because I wanted to find a career and learn some life skills,” he said.

Through more than 17 years of assignments, deployments, personal and professional challenges, Kelsey said the most important skill he’s learned is emotional intelligence. 

“We often forget to deal with the emotional side of being a warrior,” he said. “We talk about what a warrior looks like in the Air Force, but we never talk about the emotional aspects of being a warrior. I’m concerned about my cadets emotionally, too. It’s not just about training or being hard charging all the time.”

Like everyone else, cadets need to be heard, understood and supported, Kelsey said.

“No problem was solved, no one felt better simply because you said ‘I understand you.’ They felt better because they knew you empathized with them,” he said. “When it comes to cadets, I hone in on empathy because there’s no checklist on what a conversation with a cadet looks like.”

Other than their classmates, the person cadets likely connect with the most is their AMT.

“It’s a unique special duty,” Kelsey said. “Academy military trainer is probably the only career field designed for enlisted members that they’ve never heard of. It’s humbling to think I’m the person cadets in the squadron base their impression of a senior noncommissioned officer on. That’s a big responsibility.”

Kelsey said the significance of serving as an AMT is not lost on him and knows he and his peers have done their jobs when they see graduating cadets return their first salute as new officers.

“To see cadets transition to their first duty assignment with joy, smiles and often tears after graduation is bittersweet but incredibly rewarding,” he said. “Playing a role in their success is profoundly moving.”

Academy Military Trainers:
-- Must be technical and master sergeants

-- Are assigned a three-year controlled tour of duty with potential extensions allowed for retirement or curtailment for master sergeants promoting to senior master sergeant

-- Work directly for their commander and other AMTs

-- Have a dynamic mission requiring flexibility and work with their commander to determine a suitable schedule

-- Can volunteer to manage various cadet clubs and attend classes with their cadets to understand their academic experience

Several programs are available to AMTs, including the jump program allowing AMTs to earn the jump wings and badge when space is available. There are opportunities for AMTs to fly in gliders and single engine trainer aircraft piloted by cadet instructors.

Developmental opportunities exist, including a counseling certificate program, individualized routine developmental courses taught by Academy staff, and an annual leadership symposium with the chief of staff of the Air Force, Fortune 500 Companies and Olympic athletes.

Visit  to see if you fit the criteria to be an AMT. Check with your first sergeant or senior enlisted advisor to determine if AMT duty would benefit your career.