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NEWS | March 25, 2010

Gaylor NCO Academy sergeant wins Air Force award

By Mike Joseph 502nd Air Base Wing OL-A Public Affairs

When Master Sgt. Erica Gage volunteered to deploy in August 2008 she didn't realize it would have such a large impact on professional military education in Iraq or her career.

Sergeant Gage has been selected the 2009 Air Force Enlisted Professional Military Education Senior NCO of the Year for her persistence to help establish PME for the Iraqi Air Force and her classroom leadership and instructor skills at the Robert D. Gaylor NCO Academy.

She returned from Iraq in January 2009 and was promoted to master sergeant the next month. Sergeant Gage moved from flight room instructor to superintendent, communications element, last November.

"I told her husband (recently) I'd rather have her future than my past because that's how much she is accomplishing and she doesn't even realize it," said Chief Master Sgt. Albert McGowan, Gaylor Academy commandant. "She's very humble and doesn't understand what the big deal is. I told her she's earned this recognition.

"She does it for the right reasons and has the right heart," he added.

"That's why she's going to continue to be successful. She's a special person and a very strong professional."

Sergeant Gage has been surprised by the honor and quickly said her fellow instructor in Iraq, Master Sgt. Jamie Auger, Paul W. Airey NCO Academy, Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., deserved credit, too.

"It wasn't just me," said Sergeant Gage. "Sergeant Auger helped. We used to joke all the time how PME was going to save the world if we could just get people to believe in it."

Met with initial resistance, Sergeant Gage and Sergeant Auger finally found an Iraqi commander who agreed for his squadron to take a five-day PME principles class. Word spread about the class and its success. Sergeant Gage said the ongoing program is reaching a point where the Iraqis can provide their own class instruction.

Air Force NCO academy courses focus on four areas: military professional, combat leader, managerial communicator and unit manager. The instructors overcame language and cultural barriers to teach a shortened curriculum and also offered English classes to aid communication.

"The results were phenomenal," said Chief McGowan. "The Iraqis were not too warm to these classes but she won over the Air Force, the students and the Iraqi leadership."

Sergeant Gage completes a four-year assignment at the academy this summer and then returns to public health.

"If I could be a PME recruiter, I would," she said. "This has been the best job in my (17 year) career."