SOTO CANO AIR BASE, Honduras –
The 612th Air Base Squadron at Soto Cano Air Base made history on Mar. 3 when one of their non-commissioned officers graduated from the International NCO Academy at a Colombian Air Force Base in Bogota, Colombia.
Tech. Sgt. Antonio Araiza, 612th ABS air traffic control watch supervisor, graduated the 228-hour course as not only a Distinguished Graduate but also was recognized as the John Levitow Award winner, the highest honor awarded in an Air Force Enlisted Professional Military Education course for the most outstanding leadership and scholastic qualities.
This was the first time Soto Cano sent an NCO to attend the NCOA in Colombia, and making it possible was a huge team effort.
"I got word from Chief Master Sgt. Layton Clark, (12th Air Force and Air Forces South command chief) that our (Inter-American Air Forces Academy Team, Lackland Air Force Base) was going to teach a course in Bogota, Colombia to the Colombian Air Force and that Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force (James A. Roy) wanted our Air Force to put two technical sergeants in the class," said Chief Master Sgt. Thomas Schwenk, 612th senior enlisted leader.
Chief Schwenk said the NCOA is hard enough as it is, but with the course being 100 percent in Spanish made finding the right candidate even more difficult.
'They had to be the right candidate; they had to be role models, we wanted them to not have attended the NCOA yet, we wanted them to have completed their Community College of the Air Force Associates degree, and they would need to be able to complete all the requirements of the course totally in Spanish."
"Sergeant Araiza and Tech. Sgt. Rebeca Rosado from Lackland AFB met the strict criteria to attend this training and filled the two available seats," said Master Sgt. Emmit Bartee, 612 ABS first sergeant. "They were the only two chosen from the entire pool of Air Force servicemembers. Both Sergeants Araiza and Rosado performed brilliantly as ambassadors for our country and our Air Force."
Sergeant Araiza was thrilled to find out he'd been selected to attend the course.
"It was exciting to think that I would be completing this huge milestone of Enlisted PME in that country," Araiza said. "Most importantly... I was going to represent Soto Cano AB, and the USAF."
Sergeant Araiza explained that the experience itself was unparalleled.
"I got to exchange personal opinions and experiences with members of the Colombian Air Force, Colombian Army, and the Colombian National Police. In addition, we got the opportunity to interact with many distinguished visitors to include CMSAF Roy and Sargento Jefe de Comando Cuervo, his Colombian counterpart, who took time out of their busy schedules and enriched the class with their presence. Our class also organized a community event in which we volunteered at a local elementary school with more than 400 special-needs kids. That experience alone was unparalleled and very rewarding."
Similar to our NCOA graduations, the ceremony started off with the National Anthems then flowed to introductions, then the guest speaker, was introduced. He gave his remarks in Spanish then a slide presentation was shown, highlighting the students' experiences. Later, the graduates were each called up and presented a diploma. Then the four awards were presented and Sergeant Araiza was recognized.
612th ABS commander Lt. Col. David Cade, Chief Schwenk, Sergeant Bartee, and Senior Master Sgt. Herring (Sergeant Araiza's flight superintendent) were able to attend the ceremony.
"For our CMSAF, this is a huge deal." Schwenk said. "We have been opening our doors to international students at the NCOAs and Senior NCOAs, but he wanted us to have some of our NCOs go the other direction and liked the idea of some of our students being embedded in the class in Colombia. We believe it will help develop partnership capacity and also help build NCOs in the international arena. Our CMSAF would like to do this more around the world."
Lt. Gen. Glenn Spears, 12th Air Force and Air Forces South commander said, "Excellent results and excellent deliberate international development for both of these great Airmen!"
At Joint Task Force- Bravo and Soto Cano Air Base, an unwavering commitment to the highest levels of professionalism will always be the foundation of what we do, and more important, who we are. Our training is critical to ensuring regional stability in our Assigned Geographic Area, as well as to our ability to respond to natural disasters, provide humanitarian assistance, and protect the vital interests of the United States and Central America.