Your CCAF degree: What's your motivation?

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Sondra Escutia
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs
More than 300 Holloman technical sergeants recently received a personal letter from the 49th Wing command chief containing one request:

"Finish that Community College of the Air Force degree!"

"I flat out told them 'You need to finish this'," said Chief Master Sgt. Gerardo Tapia. "'If nobody has ever sat you down and told you that you need to finish this, I am telling you now, you have to do it.'"

With the recent Air Combat Command push to encourage E-6s to achieve this goal, his request was fitting, and seemingly not out of the ordinary for this education advocate.

"I don't think you're going to find a bigger advocate for enlisted education than I am," said the chief. "Education is a lot more than just the diploma that you can hang on the wall. When people go out there and they get their education, it is, in my opinion, a huge force multiplier for not only that member and his family, but the unit as well."

According to recent Air Force Personnel Center statistics, as of February 2011, Holloman's CCAF degree status for active duty Airmen E-3 to E-6 is slightly higher than the ACC average. For technical sergeants specifically, the percentage with one completed CCAF degree is 27.4 percent at Holloman compared to 24.4 percent in ACC.*

One of the Holloman technical sergeants who make up that 27.4 percent said he pursued his CCAF to be more proficient in his current job and for his future.

"I wanted to make sure I had something to fall back on when I get out of the Air Force and also wanted to be able to bring something a little different to my job," said Tech. Sgt. Sanjay Allen, 49th Wing, who also has a Bachelor's Degree in Corporate Communication. "Having my degree helps bring out the best in me."

While each individual's motivation for pursing higher education is different, NCOs in the Air Force have at least one mutual reason to confer a CCAF degree: to continue to climb the ranks.

Sam Mata, guidance counselor at the 49th Force Support Squadron Base Education and Training Center, said in today's Air Force, Airmen will ultimately need the degree for promotion to senior master sergeant.

"Without a CCAF degree today, you cannot get a senior rater endorsement, which is when the commander of the base signs your Enlisted Performance Report and endorses it. This basically says you're promotion-eligible and without that endorsement, you will not be promoted to senior master sergeant," said Mr. Mata.

Chief Tapia said that for years, education has been one of the top three reasons people join the Air Force and more young Airmen have been pursuing their degrees than in the past.

Mr. Mata agreed, pointing out that even in the upcoming graduation ceremony at Holloman, the number of Airmen 1st class to graduate with a CCAF degree is much higher than the last.

"There are several young Airmen today that are getting better education than their predecessors because they realize how important it is," he said. "I've seen bosses come in here and say 'You know what? I need to get this done. My Airmen are getting their degrees done; I need to get this done.' So they do and it's cool because now their Airmen have motivated them."

For Chief Tapia, the motivation that drove him to first pursue higher education came with becoming a father.

"I sat there and I would look at my son and I thought, 'What am I going to say to him when he asks me about my own experience? That I was too scared to go or that I didn't take full advantage of all of the benefits in front of me?" said the chief, who at the time was a staff sergeant.

He said that was the moment he got serious about his education, and years later, he sits in his office -- the command chief of the 49th WG, with a Master of Science Degree in Human Resource Development and Management.

Another senior NCO said while she was not too particularly enthusiastic about getting a CCAF degree, she realized the opportunity to get this degree was one she would not have forever.

"Everyone was always on my case about getting a CCAF degree, but I did not get it for anyone else," said Senior Master Sgt. Sonia Kilgore, Holloman career advisor, who has since conferred two separate CCAF degrees. "I got it so one day I can look back at my time in the Air Force and have no regret about not taking advantage of the opportunity."

At the time, Sergeant Kilgore was a master sergeant and many of her credits had already been earned through her professional military education and on-the-job training, which is the case for most supervisors, said Mr. Mata.

"Most people, once they hit the tech or master level, only need five general education courses," he said. "The Air Force provides all the education you need for the required 64 hours except for those 15 hours you have to get through a civilian school or through tests."

Mr. Mata said he encourages those who have not started pursing their CCAF degree, even if they already have a degree, to check out the Air Force Virtual Education Center on the Air Force Portal to see just how many credits they need, and he promised each individual one thing:

"Even if the CCAF degree never helps, it will never hurt you," he said with a smile.

And while those 300 something technical sergeants may have been the only ones to receive the personal request from the command chief, Chief Tapia said all Airmen should consider pursuing their degree -- for themselves, for their families and for their Air Force.

"No one I've ever met said this was going to be easy, but everyone I've ever talked to said it was worth it," he said. "The tassel is worth the hassle."

For more information about the regionally-accredited CCAF, contact the Base Education and Training Center at 575-572-3971.

*Statistics gathered from the Air Force Personnel Center Interactive Demographic Analysis System