There’s a new class on the block

  • Published
  • By Miriam A. Thurber
  • 37th Training Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas – The enlisted contracting career field is so lean it often places E-7s and E-8s in Senior Enlisted Leaders slots, and, until now, those junior SELs often took on the challenge without formal training.

“There was never a mechanism in place to prepare our SELs,” said Senior Master Sgt. Jonathan Carter, the Contracting Training Flight Chief in the 37th Training Wing. That is, until Carter and his team created one.

In April of 2022, the Contracting Training Flight piloted an SEL course for its career field that prepared all leadership-bound enlisted contracting personnel, or Mission-Focused Business Leaders, for the job. According to Carter, prior to this class, SELs had a symposium they could attend, but availability was limited and leaders often got a seat after they had been an SEL for a year or so.

“Because most of our SELs didn’t get training until after they had started the job, most of us learned by the seat of our pants,” Carter continued. “We became SELs without knowing what to do.”

This new quarterly course will graduate 48 students a year and prepare them before they become an SEL. According to Carter, the course equips SEL selects with a handbook of helpful websites, building a network between classmates and preparing personnel to lead peers.

“The course is a blueprint to help you find your way,” said Master Sgt. Justin Lewis, Section Chief of the Contracting Training Flight.

In addition to helping create the curriculum, Lewis was also a student in the pilot class, “Becoming an SEL seems daunting—there’s so much that goes into the job. That’s why this course is absolutely necessary.”

On top of traditional duties, like building relationships with commanders, SELs in the contracting career field wear a few additional hats. Because units are often so small, SELs usually either act as the First Sergeant, or are responsible for selecting one. Carter said this new course addresses First Sergeant duties as well as gatekeeper responsibilities since SELs are responsible for recommending or denying Airmen the ability to retrain into the career field. Roughly 400 apply every year, Lewis said, and SELs are responsible for narrowing the gap, conducting interviews and making recommendations so that only 170 get picked up to join the team.  Additionally, he stated, SELs directly control the enlisted future of the career field.

“Contracting is the best career field in the Air Force,” Lewis said. “We buy everything from pens to satellites, and SELs shoulder the majority of the load.”

Course development began in October 2021. Carter, a former Military Training Instructor with a background in teaching, was tasked with designing a class to meet the unique needs of contracting SELs. He sat down with a team of other Senior Master Sergeants and started creating the course they, themselves, would have like to have attended. The course delivers information primarily through guided discussions where instructors introduce topics and steer the conversation, but allow students to come up with the answers by using the tools and network at their disposal.

“It was humbling to help design this,” Carter said. “Having a strong SEL corps will help future mission-focused business leaders, which will trickle down to the rest of the Air Force.”

The team is planning a second iteration of the course for July 2022 to iron out any additional hiccups before officially offering the quarterly class to 12 students, four times a year.