Father and son team up for Satellite NCO Academy
By Master Sgt. Mavi Smith, The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center
/ Published December 16, 2009
McGHEE TYSON AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Tenn. -- A father and son from the New York Air National Guard were among 130 Airmen from 14 units who graduated from the Satellite Noncommissioned Officer (NCO) Academy Class 10-2 in a ceremony held at The I.G. Brown Air National Guard Training and Education Center here, Dec. 15.
Tech. Sgt. Robert J. Helligrass and his son Tech. Sgt. Adam C. Helligrass, both aerospace maintenance craftsmen, or crew chiefs, are members of the 109th Airlift Wing, in Scotia, N.Y.
Their unit operates the LC-130H, a ski-equipped version of the C-130 aircraft, and provides airlift in support of Arctic and Antarctic operations.
Robert is a traditional guardsman and a full-time police officer with the Bethlehem Police Department. Adam is an active guard and reserve member at the unit.
"We are very close," said Robert of his relationship with his son. "We're always together and we get along so great that people sometimes think we're brothers."
"When our unit started getting involved in the Satellite NCO Academy program," said Robert. "We thought it would be a good idea to do it together. It was a good way to get it done and we had a lot of fun with it."
The NCO Academy is a requirement for promotion to master sergeant. Air Force members must take the course in-residence but Air National Guardsmen have the option of taking the correspondence course or attending either the traditional 6-week in-residence school or the satellite program.
A 12-week distance learning version of the NCO Academy, the satellite program was specifically designed for Airmen who cannot attend the six-week program for whatever reason, but still want the education, experience and credit of attending the program in-residence.
During the first phase, students attend four-hour training sessions two nights a week at their home station. Trained facilitators at their unit help them participate in interactive training lessons which are broadcast over the Air National Guard's Warrior Network satellite system.
"The home station portion was really good," said Adam. "We had a good dynamic in our class and our facilitators were great. They were really involved in what was going on and they went above and beyond to make sure we were prepared."
In the second phase of the program, students travel to McGhee Tyson ANGB, Tenn., for a two-week capstone in-residence experience at the Training and Education Center. Here, they are separated from their fellow home station students and mixed in with the other units participating in the program.
"It was a great experience," said Adam, who was also selected as a flight leader during the in-residence portion of the class. "The instructor interaction and learning from other people's experience and input was great."
Both men excelled during the class but ultimately, the Satellite NCO Academy was an opportunity for them to meet their unit's mission objectives.
Robert may be a traditional guardsman but he is dedicated to his military responsibilities. He performs more than 30 days per year in support of his unit's Antarctica mission and this year he also spent several weeks in Greenland. He and Adam frequently travel together.
"I do commit a lot of time to the unit but I also have responsibilities at home," said Robert, whose duties as a police officer are similar to those of a military first sergeant. "For people that have those responsibilities, the Satellite NCO Academy program is a good way to (fulfill the requirement for professional military education)."
"It's not just a personal benefit," added Robert. "It's a benefit for the mission. It's a win-win for everybody."
Both father and son said they enjoyed the experience of studying, hanging out and helping each other through the program.
"I think it's fantastic that I got to take this class with my father," said Adam. "We've always had a good relationship and doing this is just one more thing we can put under our belt as something we've experienced together."