JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas — For Master Sgt. Paul Willson, attending the advanced Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy at Camp Pendleton, California, was the natural thing to do.
As a career EOD technician, Willson has always worked closely with other branches, beginning with the Naval EOD School all services attend and continuing through combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan where he teamed up with Army, Navy and Marine EOD technicians.
“The decision to try for a sister service professional military education came easily,” he said. “I’ve always been interested in the joint community and those relationships will only get closer as the need for multidomain operations becomes increasingly necessary.”
Willson, an EOD and emergency management training and support manager in the AFIMSC Expeditionary Support Directorate, earned distinguished graduate honors when he completed the school in September.
“Earning DG actually came as a surprise to me as, at my mid-term feedback, I was ranked 43 of 114 students,” he said. “I managed to pull through during the remaining half of the course to finish in the top 10 percent; number 11 to be exact, barely edging in at the finish line by studying long hours and staying task focused.”
As a small group leader, Willson led a team of 17, including 15 Marines and one Maldives National Marine. Under his leadership, the team earned four of 11 DG awards.
“I tried my best as group leader to review and edit what I could,” he said, adding that he even bought a printer for his team to print out classwork because the school didn’t provide one.
The Marine Corps Staff NCO Academy is similar to the Air Force Senior NCO Academy, with students completing graded essays, written tests and speeches while studying ethical leadership, professional warfighting and sound decision-making. The school also focuses on the theories behind Marine Corps command and control, the challenges of leadership development and the fundamentals of expeditionary force at the tactical level.
“They have a much greater focus on physical training and operational planning,” Willson said. “They expect their gunnery sergeants to be key members in the planning of complex military movements on the front-lines, while being able to task and inspire their subordinates to maintain the fitness required to complete their combat tasks.”
Willson leaned on previous PME to make it through some of the course’s toughest academic challenges while his experiences at AFIMSC helped him excel in other areas.
“My time here, and being exposed to the enterprise-wide programs, gave me the experience and confidence to lead a joint team,” he said. “My time on one of the I-WEPTAC mission area working groups also gave me tools to use in group discussions and additional confidence to present and voice my opinion regardless of the audience.”
With his upcoming promotion to senior master sergeant, Willson may soon be tasked to serve as an EOD flight chief. He plans to use lessons learned at the school and leverage concepts and connections gained to help Airmen acclimate to the joint world they will operate in during future conflicts.
His success at the academy — both as a student and as a leader — reflect the qualities needed to succeed as an EOD leader in a joint environment, said Chief Master Sgt. David Clifford, PACAF Civil Engineer MAJCOM Functional Manager and Willson’s supervisor.
“Paul is absolutely ready to lead an EOD flight, even one of the few Air Force large EOD range flights,” Clifford said. “By taking home DG, he demonstrated at the Marine Corps SNCOA – and will in any future EOD flight – motivating skill for his Airmen and leadership by example.”
For information about attending sister service PME, visit https://mypers.af.mil/app/answers/detail/a_id/39020/kw/PME/p/10.