JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J. —
Whether pinned to the collar or tacked onto the sleeves, rank defines each service member. It shows the work they have put into their career, the respect they have earned, and their aspiration to continue their professional military education.
Each rank earns more authority than the last and requires specialized leadership training to learn how to take on the new responsibilities.
Although each U.S. military branch is a separate culture with different missions and functionality, one thing they have in common is professional military education. Military education varies through the services when promoting to the next leadership tier. Each service requires noncommissioned officers to attend professional military education at service specific NCO academies. It is designed to teach members based on their branch and leadership tier.
Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst is distinctive for being the only tri-service military installation in the nation. Housing all five services, Joint Base MDL leaders are determined to heighten its extraordinary characteristics by integrating the services professional military education in support of their vision to be the prime joint warfighting installation.
U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Valentino Thorne, 87th Logistics Readiness Squadron superintendent of squadron readiness, made an impactful contribution to that vision by being the first Airman at Joint Base MDL to graduate from the U.S. Army NCO Academy Master Leadership Course here.
“The class isn’t made for the Air Force, so it felt like trying to learn another language within two weeks,” said Thorne.
As the only Airman in the class, Thorne had to earn the respect of the Soldiers, learn their acronyms, as well as learn Army values and priorities.
“As a senior NCO from another branch, I expected a parallel level of professionalism from him,” said U.S. Army Master Sgt. Harrison Cardale, NCO Academy master leader course instructor. “I expected him to be another student ready to learn and participate just like his Army peers.”
Thorne entered the class for his first day. His sage green tiger stripes were like a neon sign in the sea of brown camouflage.
“When I first [started class] the [Soldiers] would say ‘Hey Air Force,’ or ‘We do sit-ups not crunches,’” said Thorne. “There was a lot of teasing like that.”
Once the students found their seats, Cardale set a single hat on the table and instructed each student to take out a playing card he had placed inside. Whoever received the joker would be assigned the role of class leader.
Some may have called it fate, others might call it luck; but Thorne flipped his card over –
It was the joker.
Being class leader, Thorne was now not only responsible for his own success in class but was now accountable to get to know each of his classmates and keep them on task with class work, holding them to Army standards while learning and maintaining those standards himself.
“I wasn’t sure how he would do being put in charge of 15 Army senior NCO’s being an Air Force NCO,” said Cardale. “Conversely, I wondered how the Army students would respond to an Air Force NCO being their class leader.”
Thorne said he felt the pressure of being the only Airman in the classroom surrounded by Soldiers. He knew all eyes were on him, watching to see how he would do. Thorne took extra care in portraying the Air Force’s core values of “integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do,” by going out of his way to volunteer, study hard and focusing his energy into his work while showing no signs of struggle.
Army professional military education courses are more tactics focused, with an emphasis on ground warfare, while Air Force schools are more supervisory based, building interpersonal communication skills. Once Thorne made it through his initiation phase of the teasing and skepticism from the sister service rivalry, the Soldiers began to learn about the Air Force; not just the culture, but the values Airmen hold.
“He provided more information regarding Air Force operations than I could have hoped for,” said Cardale. “It was definitely a breath of fresh air and [he] significantly contributed to our class.”
Luck may have been on Thorne’s side the day he pulled the joker card. Becoming the class leader supported his efforts to prove to the Soldiers that not only could he pass the course, but he would be one of the top graduates, achieving over a 90 percent overall.
“Thorne never hesitated in his role and took charge,” said Cardale. “He had no issues providing purpose, direction, and motivation to his Army peers and they responded to him in kind.”