Inter-Pacific Air Forces Academy graduates first class, strengthens international security cooperation through education

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Hailey Haux
  • Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs

Pacific Air Forces hosted the inaugural Inter-Pacific Air Forces Academy, or IPAFA, November 6-16.

IPAFA is an enlisted leadership course that includes all Allies and partners throughout the Indo-Pacific. In total, 19 non-commissioned officers graduated from the two-week-long course Nov. 16 – six Americans along with 13 students from other Indo-Pacific and European countries.

“The inaugural Inter-Pacific Air Forces Academy holds immense significance for the Indo-Pacific region and our collective mission,” said U.S. Air Force Chief Master Sgt. David Wolfe, PACAF command chief. “It symbolizes a new chapter in international military education and cooperation, with a strong focus on the enlisted force of all like-minded partner nations.”

The genesis for IPAFA came out of the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium 2021, along with existing courses like Airman Leadership School and Senior Non-commissioned Officer Academy that have international student enrollment on a space-available basis. IPAFA is additive in nature to those courses, rather than a replacement.

“This inaugural course is incredibly important because we must raise up and create a more professional [non-commissioned officer] corps for all of us,” said U.S. Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach, PACAF commander, during the graduation ceremony. “We believe that through a more professional NCO corps, which is the backbone of any air force, we can all be better.”

Air forces around the Indo-Pacific currently have varying responsibilities for their nations’ enlisted members. IPAFA serves as a comprehensive way to standardize the role of non-commissioned officers and senior enlisted in the region, supporting integrated deterrence and a free and open Indo-Pacific.

“Throughout the course we have built lasting relationships that will undoubtedly propel our future interoperability,” said U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Dominique Gastelum, Binnicker Professional Military Education Center deputy commandant. “We are looking to be completely integrated with our Allies and partners at an early level, so we are already familiar with each other and can work together as a team no matter where we’re at in the world.”

One of the most strategic advantages of the U.S. miliary is its well-trained, educated, and empowered enlisted corps, especially with the many leadership responsibilities among NCOs and senior NCOs.

“Though this is the inaugural class, IPAFA is already a premiere course because of professionals like you,” said Royal Australian Air Force Air Vice-Marshal Carl Newman, PACAF deputy commander. “Indo-Pacific nations face many challenges, but you’re now prepared to address them with the skills you’ve developed together. Please share what you’ve learned, the concepts of mission command, readiness, and leadership, with your leaders and colleagues back home so we can continue to achieve extraordinary things.”

The course’s foundation was built on three key areas: (1) leadership, (2) mission command and (3) readiness. Each of these helped the class focus on becoming more effective leaders. They learned about empowering subordinates, recognizing people’s personality differences and motivations, trusting their members, and decision making.

On their last day in class, they completed a leadership reaction course, which combined critical thinking and leadership skills with obstacle-course work and puzzles. The students teamed up to do the course together, using everything they learned over the two weeks.

“This course really helps us better understand other nations and how they do business so we can be more interoperable,” said Royal New Zealand Air Force Flight Sgt. Leo Wiapo, IPAFA instructor. “We must have that understanding of each other in order to build better relationships and stand side-by-side and this course is a great foundation for that.”

IPAFA is like the existing Inter-European Air Forces Academy and Inter-American Air Forces Academy, which enroll international students within their respective regions. Those schools feature multiple courses that target different ranks and technical specialties.

“The establishment of IPAFA underscores our belief in the strength and capabilities of the enlisted personnel as a driving force for regional security,” said Wolfe. “IPAFA is a testament to our unwavering dedication to collective security, preparedness, and the cultivation of future leaders who will shape the future of regional security in the Indo-Pacific.”

On the final day, students were recognized at a graduation ceremony attended by the international air force generals and senior enlisted leaders attending the Pacific Air Chiefs Symposium – a week-long event focused on applying global lessons to challenges of regional security and the largest biannual air chief symposium to date, with 22 countries attending.

The future of IPAFA is bright. Over the next year, instructors are preparing to conduct mobile training teams so countries unable to send people in-person are still able to get the tools and knowledge, thus growing stronger together.

“Chief [Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne] Bass mentioned something that resonated with me,” said Gastelum after Bass’ visit with the students. “She said that we need to anticipate what the future looks like. Regardless of what flag is on an aircraft's tail, if there is an ally who is qualified to provide maintenance, we need the ability to do so to continue to project airpower. That is what this course does; we are able to build the foundation to work together and set ourselves up for the future—to be interchangeable with our Allied and partner nations.”