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Awards and education covered during lunch and learn event

120th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Lee Smith discusses awards and decorations and continuing education during his second brown bag lunch seminar held at the 120th AW Dining Facility April 11, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

120th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Lee Smith discusses awards and decorations and continuing education during his second brown bag lunch seminar held at the 120th AW Dining Facility April 11, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

120th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Lee Smith discusses awards and decorations and continuing education during his second brown bag lunch seminar held at the 120th AW Dining Facility April 11, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

120th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Lee Smith discusses awards and decorations and continuing education during his second brown bag lunch seminar held at the 120th AW Dining Facility April 11, 2016. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Master Sgt. Eric Peterson)

GREAT FALLS, Mont. -- 120th Airlift Wing Commander Col. Lee Smith conducted the second in a series of brown bag lunch seminars at the 120th AW dining facility April 11.

The lunch and learn topics covered during the event included a discussion of awards and decorations and continuing education.

Col. Smith provided his personal philosophy on how to improve the awards and decorations program at the 120th AW.

He said when someone considers nominating an individual for one of the three commonly awarded medals the appropriateness of their rank should be taken into consideration.

Senior airmen and lower ranked individuals may be nominated for the Air Force Achievement Medal; company grade officers and noncommissioned officers may be nominated for the Air Force Commendation Medal; and the Meritorious Service Medal is appropriate when nominating senior noncommissioned officers and field grade officers for an award. 

"At the three to five year point is a perfect time to start looking at someone to see whether or not they merit a citation," Col. Smith said. "Ideally, the person has no negative information during the award period. The fundamental requirement for an award is that their performance is truly exceptional and above and beyond what their peers are."

Col. Smith said he looks for three criteria for justifying an Airman for an above the zone nomination for award: the scope of responsibility, duration and the impact of the Airman's actions. He said the scope of responsibility and the impact of the action must be above the rank class of the nominated individual. He cited the example of an Airman working at a shop or squadron level who may have accomplished something that impacted the wing or the entire Montana Air National Guard.

Col. Smith said leadership or supervisors should also consider their Airmen for an award each time they experience a permanent change of assignment (PCA).

"Supervisors should at least ask the question if one is warranted," Col. Smith said. "That way people get the credit that they deserve."

Professional military education (PME), advanced academic degrees and Community College of the Air Force (CCAF) degrees are all forms of continuing education and have become important elements to an Airman's professional career.

"There are two ways we learn in life," Col. Smith said. "One of them is through experience and the other one is through education, but experience is the one thing you get after you need it and oftentimes the lesson hurts."

Col. Smith said education accelerates the experience process to provide a less-painful lesson. He said the benefit of education allows you to front-load experience to be able to take what has been learned in an academic setting and apply it to real life.

"Education and experience are both important, especially in the Air Force," Col. Smith said. "The sooner you gain that knowledge and education the better for you to use it more in your career."

The Air Force now requires Airmen to have earned CCAF degrees prior to consideration for promotion to the senior and chief master sergeant ranks.

The Montana Air National Guard recently experienced its largest class of CCAF graduates. In March, 33 Airmen received associate of applied science degrees in education areas relating to their Air Force career fields.

"That's awesome and a very positive trend," Col. Smith said. "I think we can definitely build upon that."

Airmen interested in suggesting topics for future brown bag lunch events are encouraged to forward ideas to 120th AW Executive Officer Maj. Maureen Maphies.
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