ALS instructor teaches Airmen to lead

Staff Sgt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, airman leadership school instructor, takes notes during a student's presentation Jan. 30, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. ALS is a five-week course for senior airmen, and sometimes staff sergeants, to learn to be effective frontline supervisors.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, airman leadership school instructor, takes notes during a student's presentation Jan. 30, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. ALS is a five-week course for senior airmen, and sometimes staff sergeants, to learn to be effective frontline supervisors.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, airman leadership school instructor, gives feedback to Senior Airman Irna Diaz, 728th Air Mobility Squadron, after her presentation Jan. 30, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. ALS is a five-week course for senior airmen, and sometimes staff sergeants, to learn to be effective frontline supervisors.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt/Released)

Staff Sgt. Kitsana Dounglomchan, airman leadership school instructor, gives feedback to Senior Airman Irna Diaz, 728th Air Mobility Squadron, after her presentation Jan. 30, 2012, at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. ALS is a five-week course for senior airmen, and sometimes staff sergeants, to learn to be effective frontline supervisors.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Clayton Lenhardt/Released)

INCIRLIK AIR BASE, Turkey -- During a time in his career when he contemplated separating from the military, then Senior Airman Kitsana Dounglomchan took part in something that changed his career forever; he went to airman leadership school.

ALS is a five-week course for senior airmen, and sometimes new staff sergeants, to learn to be effective frontline supervisors. It was during ALS when Dounglomchan found a new enthusiasm for the Air Force and met the man who would eventually convince him to instruct the course.

"It's a crash course in leadership skills, communication skills, how to write an effective (enlisted performance report), how to conduct an initial, midterm and follow up feedback," said Dounglomchan. "You combine all those skills together and you get the prototypical frontline supervisor as long as they apply the things they learned."

Dounglomchan's instructor, Master Sgt. Eric Nelson, traveled TDY to Nellis Air Force Base Nev., to assist the ALS with an abundance of Airmen needing the class.

After being promoted to staff sergeant and receiving orders to Incirlik, to the 39th Communications Squadron here, he ran into his former instructor.

"I was at the ALS building on a job maybe two to three weeks after I got here and ran into Master Sgt. Eric Nelson, (who now serves as the commandant of the Incirlik ALS). He didn't know I was here, and I didn't know he was here, but there just so happened to be an opening," said Dounglomchan now an Incirlik Air Base ALS instructor. "He suggested I put in my package ... I did and got the job a couple weeks later, and it's been an awesome experience."

Despite his experience as a student, Dounglomchan was unsure what to expect when he learned he got the job. During the ten months teaching since then, he said he now realizes that a good instructor requires a combination of different skill sets.

"I thought that I was going to have to be like a (training instructor), like kind of be a jerk; but what I've found was with ALS you're part recruiter, part TI, part (military training leader), and then you have to sprinkle your own flavor in there with that," said Dounglomchan. "You're like a combination of a whole bunch of things rolled into one."

In filling those varied roles, Dounglomchan finds creative ways to keep classes on their toes and engaged.

"I try to keep it spontaneous. ... If the class seems tired I'll be like, 'Let's do some pushups and sit ups,'" said Dounglomchan. "I guess the coolest thing is anything you want to do that's ... going to help the students be better supervisors and motivate them through this class, you can pretty much do."

Dounglomchan said it is the students who don't do as well in the beginning that he likes to work with because he enjoys helping them learn to be good supervisors.

"It's an old adage, you always learn more about how to supervise from the Airmen that were difficult, from the ones that struggled. You learn more about how to be a supervisor and it applies to being an instructor, as well," said Dounglomchan. "The students who excel do their reading, they're easy, you don't have to tell them anything. It's the people that don't do the reading, that don't prepare for class, that fail exams are the ones you have to spend more time with and I enjoy the challenge of working with someone who's difficult and showing them there is a better way to do things."

ALS is a time where soon-to-be supervisors learn what it is required to be a NCO. Because of that, Dounglomchan believes it is up to him to show each student what a good NCO is.

"The best thing you can do as an ALS instructor is give them a model of a good NCO," said the instructor. "These senior airmen have seen a lot of NCOs throughout their career. They've seen good NCOs, and they've seen bad NCOs, and they've seen average ones. You need to be the NCO they've always thought of - like when they came in the military and thought, this is what I think of a NCO. You need to be that, but you also need to not forget yourself and how you got to that point.

"When I first started this job, I tried being someone I wasn't. I tried being too serious all the time, and it didn't work for me because it didn't work for the classroom - getting exhausted after each day of teaching because I was trying to be someone I wasn't," said Dounglomchan. "Once I realized I could be myself, but still maintain that same level of professionalism and still have the class meet all of its objectives, it opened up my eyes. Always be yourself; and it's easy to say, but it can be hard to do."

As an instructor, Dounglomchan works long after the students leave to ensure the next day's lesson plan is ready and gets to work early to make sure the day starts and proceeds as planned.

"Most days, we begin at about 7:30 a.m., so I like to get in at about 6:30 (a.m.) to make sure that I've read my lesson plans, the classroom's ready and there's nothing I need to do to for any of the students or any of the staff," said Dounglomchan. "Class usually runs until 3:30 (p.m.), unless it's one of the three days a week we do (physical training), in which case we'll be done around 5:15 p.m."

Even at home, Dounglomchan tends to his ALS responsibilities.

"As soon as I get done, I go home and eat, then read over my lesson plans and student guide. I do that for about an hour or two each night," said Dounglomchan.

It's a continuous schedule with short breaks between each class. Once one class graduates, the instructors usually have about a week or two to prepare for the next class.

"During that time we get caught up on all the paperwork we have to do like filing the student records, building the next class, scheduling all the panels, coordinating our schedule with all the other organizations around base. ... All these agencies have to come here, so we have to deconflict all these schedules to make sure it works out for them and us, as well," said Dounglomchan.

Dounglomchan said talking to former instructors, he's never met someone who was an ALS instructor who didn't enjoy the job.

"I've heard command chiefs talk, master sergeants talk, I've heard (staff sergeants) and (technical sergeants) talk about their experiences (as an instructor); and the one thing they all have in common is that it was the best assignment they ever did," said Dounglomchan. "In my nine years that I've been in, I understand why; because so far in my military career, this has been the best assignment for me.

"I get to know so many people. I get to learn so many different things. I get to share my experiences. I get to learn from their experiences," said Dounglomchan. "It's just the best job you could have in the Air Force. I recommend anyone that's ever thought about doing ALS that enjoys teaching and wants to make an impact on Airmen's lives, to do this job and you won't regret it."