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USTRANSCOM soldier finishes Air Force school with highest honor

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SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. (USTCNS) -- With a deployment to Bosnia-Herzegovina and two deployments to Iraq, Army Cpl. Steven Russel has experienced much beyond his 28 years.

He's received a Purple Heart, Army Achievement and Good Conduct medals, twice, and a Bronze Star, with valor.

Trained as a mechanized infantryman and as an administrative specialist during his seven-year military career, he was surely up for his most recent challenge--the Air Force's Bud Andrews Airmen Leadership School at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.

The six-week school is known Air Force-wide as a prerequisite for all airmen preparing to make transition to non-commissioned officer.

A soldier in Russel's position would typically attend the Army's Warrior Leader Course.

"It's a month-long course that teaches basic skills to lead a small group of soldiers," Russel said. "It's very similar to the concepts of leadership and training management skills that are taught in ALS but varies slightly with more emphasis on soldier-based training that includes map reading, land navigation and a field training exercise at the end of the course where soldiers get to experience what it's like to lead a platoon in the field."

Russel was chosen to attend ALS by his leaders at U.S. Transportation Command at Scott Air Force Base.

Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Ken McQuiston is the USTRANSCOM senior enlisted advisor and is responsible monitoring the development of the command's Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard enlisted personnel.

"Corporal Russel is part of a program in which we're trying to include joint force folks in different services' levels of professional military education," McQuiston said. "At the senior NCO level, we already have the Air Force's senior NCO academy, which allows soldiers, sailors, Coast Guardsmen and Marines to attend.

"The other services also allow members from other services to attend their academies," McQuiston continued. "But we have never done it at the NCO level or the junior level, which is airman leadership school. So, we asked permission from the Chief Master Sergeant of the Air Force and Sergeant Major of the Army to put a soldier in airman leadership (school) to broaden their background on how the Air Force operates."

Russel says he had a few preconceived ideas about the Air Force prior to ALS. "The Air Force has not been known for exceptional physical fitness," Russel said. "I thought they were real laid back, in a relaxed environment.

"What I learned from the airmen there, is that they all work very hard," Russel continued. "They're all very motivated and dedicated to what they do for the Air Force and physical fitness is definitely a top priority among these future leaders."

Russel noted a few minor differences between Army and Air Force training. "Drill and ceremony are a little different," Russel said. "The Air Force seems to rely on the individual motivation of the airman more than the Army does. The Army kind of takes you by the hand and teaches you what you need to know and helps lead you through the process.

"The Air Force does that to a point," Russel continued, "but then they expect you to be able to fill in the gaps on your own and actually be able to interpret the data or the information that you've been given and be able to comprehend at a higher level."

Russell apparently did this quite well. During the commencement ceremony, he was presented with the John Levitow award which is presented to the top professional military education graduate from Air Force Airman Leadership Schools throughout the Air Force. The award is named for Levitow, an Air Force Vietnam Medal of Honor recipient.

According to McQuiston, Russel is the first non-Air Force military member ever to receive the honor.

"I was grateful and surprised to receive the award," Russel said. "I walked into the school not really thinking that I was going to be eligible for anything, just due to the fact that I'm Army and it's an Air Force school. I tried my hardest and I really was surprised when they called my name during the award ceremony."

Russel says he will always remember one aspect of his Air Force educational experience. "The camaraderie that I built with the students and faculty there,' he said, "and knowing that I was taught by, and learned with, a bunch of professionals, who were very dedicated and motivated to be there, and to excel."

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