Caring for Cadets: NCOs offer hands-on support, enlisted perspective

  • Published
  • By Amber Baillie
  • Academy Spirit staff writer
Enlisted personnel at the science and engineering labs here not only aid cadets in understanding important design and research concepts, but offer them a glimpse into the leadership expertise and experience the enlisted force offers to these future officers.

Master Sgt. Chad Bruce, superintendent of the Academy's applied mechanics lab, supervises seven lab technicians, oversees cadet projects and full-time research projects, and is responsible for scheduling and maintaining the safety program.

"My favorite part of working at (the Academy) is the ability to help engineering students accomplish their goals," Bruce said "I never know what projects will come into the lab and it keeps my job exciting from day-to-day."

Bruce said he also sees his role as an opportunity to include the enlisted perspective into cadet life.

"As future Air Force leaders, today's cadets will interact with the enlisted corps in one way or another, and very well end up commanding Airmen," Bruce said. "If I can provide a small glimpse at how professional the enlisted corps is, then I believe our cadets will lead at a more effective level from the start."

Lt. Col. Richard Buckley, assistant professor in engineering mechanics and the Center for Aircraft Structural Life Extension's Applied Mechanics Lab director, said the department offers more than 30 courses, has nine design teams and sees 2,600 cadets in the lab each year. Within the lab, the $35 million "Castle" supports cadet research projects and is the largest research center on base.

"Chad interacts with cadets every day and deals with different levels of involvement in the research center," Buckley said. "He is professional, straight to the point and probably works at least 50 hours a week in the lab."

For a second year in a row, Bruce received the Academy's "Safety Individual of the Year" award this month, and the lab won the "Safety Team of the Year" award.

"Working with a senior NCO is a great learning experience," said Cadet 1st Class Jacob Decklever. "I think the most beneficial part about working with Bruce is his perspective on what a second lieutenant should be and how they should act. He also allows me to pick his brain on certain issues to see how the enlisted ranks view certain subjects, which is great because we're fairly isolated from enlisted personnel as cadets."

The lab is open 24/7. Bruce said cadets participate in projects that include automotive work, robot design and design reviews.

Decklever is on a robotics team.

"I find the applied mechanics lab extremely helpful and useful," Decklever said. "The number one thing I appreciate about it are the people who work there. Not only are they very knowledgeable, but they're always willing to teach or show me how to build or fix something."

In the Academy's civil and environmental engineering department, Twesme said Master Sgt. Patrick Start, superintendent of the Field Engineering and Readiness Lab and Tech Sgt. Heidi Hunter, FERL's laboratory superintendent, are two NCOs who have a huge impact on cadets.

Every summer, Start helps introduce cadets to hands on engineering and construction, teaching them to place concrete, build houses, filter water and also mentors the cadet cadre on FERL operations, Twesme said.

Start said the program is truly one of a kind.

"My main goal is to give cadets the best learning environment possible," he said. "There is no other course like FERL available in any other branch of service, which is why we also offer it to the Navy midshipmen, Army cadets, Coast Guard, and ROTC."

They are stellar examples of professional NCOs, Twesme said.

In the Academy's meteorology department, Lt. Col. Matt Tracy said Master Sgt. Nate Taylor, superintendent of the meteorology lab, provides tremendous technical expertise and significant operational weather experience to the department and cadets.

Taylor assumed the role in May 2011. He said he's fortunate to be able to interact with cadets in four different disciplines: economics, geosciences, meteorology and physics.

"As an enlisted (Airman), we are the ones who do the lion's share of forecasting the weather for the Air Force, and it's important to have the cadets understand how, as an enlisted force, we do business in the weather career field," Taylor said. "This a great position for an enlisted person to shape the future officer corps."

The lab consists of 14 computers with specific software loaded to allow the cadets to model atmospheric situations, Taylor said.

"It's a good resource for the cadets because it allows them to use tools that forecasters in the Air Force use to predict the weather," Taylor said.

Cadet 1st Class Kinder McCullough, who uses the applied mechanics lab regularly, said he is going miss having so many tools, machines and technicians available at his disposal.

"We are provided with so many capabilities in house that most people probably don't realize how much they are going to miss, having things like the mill or the lathe available to use whenever," McCullough said.