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Training never stops: NCOs pursue Academy’s Military Training course online during COVID-19 outbreak

AMT course

Basic cadets from the Class of 2023 march back from Jacks Valley to the U.S. Air Force Academy campus last summer after field training. Eleven Air Forces NCOs are attending the school's Academy Military Training course online throughout March to become academy military trainers, and guide and mentor cadets through their four years at the Academy. The AMTs teach cadets to organize and lead events for subordinate cadets including the march back, basic cadet training, and many other events that are critical for cadets' military training. (U.S. Air Force photo/Trevor Cokley)

U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. – The global COVID-19 pandemic may have changed how the Air Force Academy goes about its business, but training is still a top priority at the school.

Master Sgt. Michael Finley is one of 103 military trainers at the Academy who guide and instruct cadets from the moment they arrive for basic cadet training until they graduate.

“We still have a requirement to develop leaders of character and academy military trainers provide a vital role in that process,” Finley said.

Finley is the lead instructor for the Academy’s Military Training course. He and his staff teach technical and master sergeants to be AMTs and enlisted advisers to commissioned officers. They also teach cadets and cadet candidates at the Prep School to lead other cadets and eventually active duty Airmen.

Defense Department restrictions set during the coronavirus epidemic changed the course’s length from five to three weeks, and made the training available only online.

“It’s different than what you experience in a ‘brick and mortar’ setting and does take away from some personal interaction, but being flexible ensures we get the job done,” said Master Sgt. Daniel Cruz, one of three master sergeants and eight technical sergeants enrolled in the course.

Regardless of format, Finley said the coursework can be intense.

“Senior NCOs on staff at the Air Force First Sergeant Academy are scheduled to join us online to discuss [the Uniform Code of Military Justice] and alternative dispute resolutions, to highlight a few topics,” Finley said. “Just because the class is online doesn’t mean there isn’t anything to gain or that education is not occurring. That’s far from the case.”

Finley said he focuses on relationships and care while teaching Cruz and the other students.

“Relationships are the key to success at the Academy and respect and gratitude go a long way,” he said. “Showing others you care and are invested in them really matters.”

Chief Master Sgt. Robert Johnson is the Cadet Wing’s command chief and senior enlisted adviser. He’s responsible for all enlisted staff members assigned to the Cadet Wing. 

“Our AMTs are resilient and dedicated,” he said. “When most all cadets left the Academy in March, the AMTs stayed to make sure the class of 2020 got to graduation. They stayed because they had 1,000 senior cadets who needed guidance. Those few who couldn’t come to work because of the coronavirus and be here for cadets …  it drove them crazy.

 “There’s no other place where you have people in charge of training and developing their future boss,” Johnson said. “That development comes through the care, respect, military training and shared expectations that Master Sgt. Finley’s course provides.”

Finley’s latest class began May 4 and ends May 22.