Airey NCOA welcomes new commandant

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Betty R. Chevalier
  • 325th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

“Education removes any limits or boundaries that one may otherwise think they have,” stated Chief Master Sgt. Stephanie Patterson. “I look forward to watching and seeing the role that I have in helping to mature leaders every single day. When I say leaders…I’m talking about human beings that feel better about who they are, what their purpose is and the impact they can make every day.”

The Paul W. Airey Noncommissioned Officer Academy at Tyndall Air Force Base was scheduled for closure earlier this year, but after further review, the U.S. Air Force ultimately decided to keep the school open, continuing its legacy. Patterson, who after 28 years of service was also considering retirement, assumed responsibility as the Airey NCOA commandant, continuing her legacy as well.

Patterson, who has been in the seat since Aug. 9, officially took the helm Sept. 29, 2023. Those who have worked with her previously are not surprised by her decision and believe she is the perfect fit for the position.

“She doesn’t shrink from undertaking what is wise and good for all,” said Chief Master Sgt. Jessica Player, 325th Force Support Squadron senior enlisted leader. “When you talk about building a team, she is the right person to sit there and have a team come together. Just having her presence there, [students] will get so much more than what they see coming through the gate. It is the tools that they will walk away with after having her presence as they’re coming [through the courses].”

Patterson has a deep investment in leadership and enlisted professional military education.  She felt drawn to it, but as an enlisted career aviator, her chances to serve in a developmental special duty were limited due to career field size. This did not stop her from eventually getting into a EPME leadership position.

“Every single time I attended [professional military education], I just connected; I knew it’s where I fit… in a very natural way,” Patterson explained. “I never had the opportunity to go into PME as an instructor and of course, as I made chief, I thought the likelihood of that is probably gone.”

A traditional path for a chief master sergeant usually involves serving as a group superintendent and then moving towards a command chief. Patterson served as a group superintendent at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, with a clear route to move into a command chief position.

“I really had to search, and I thought, ‘Yeah, that is what someone else’s script of what success looks like. Where is my heart truly?’” Patterson asked herself. “That drove me to the Chief Leadership Academy where I served as…a podium instructor, teaching all of our new chiefs.”

After her assignment at the Chief Leadership Academy, she accepted her first commandant role at Mathies NCOA, Keesler AFB, Mississippi. It was here where she met Player, who expressed her admiration for Patterson’s resiliency and fair leadership as the commandant and found a mentor in Patterson.

“I really do appreciate her being a pathfinder; she did things that I reflect back on in my journey that allow me to be a trailblazer,” Player said. “She had been in 10 years longer than me when we met and just to see her and how she carried herself, allowed me to know that you never stop growing, regardless of your rank or position. We may be the same rank, but…I can go to her, and she will offer me perspective and I value that.”

As Patterson assumes responsibility of Airey NCOA, she is aware there will be challenges her and her team face. Many of the instructors are new to this position due to the previously scheduled closure. They are charged with developing plans for Airey NCOA to support a full student load with amenities, such as lodging and transportation, limited while Tyndall is under construction. Additionally, in early September, the Air Force announced changes to the EPME structure which the faculty at Airey NCOA is already taking on.

Patterson believes in her team as they are currently in the process of developing new curriculum for the enlisted force to meet the directives from higher headquarters. Patterson expressed she is honored to be a part of the history at Airey NCOA and is looking forward to developing the next generation of Air Force enlisted leaders.