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NCLS: 20th AF Professional Development Opportunity

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Breanna Carter
  • 90th Missile Wing Public Affairs

The 20th Air Force ICBM Center of Excellence sent 27 Airmen to the National Character and Leadership Symposium at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado., Feb. 23-24. This year’s theme was “Warrior Ethos and the American Airman.”

I had the opportunity to attend the two-day symposium, which provided an opportunity for Academy personnel, community members and visiting students and faculty to experience dynamic speakers and take part in group discussions to enhance their understanding of the importance of sound moral character and good leadership.

As an airman 1st class, arriving on the Academy grounds was breath taking. When I stepped into Arnold Hall, I was inspired by the number of Air Force personnel in attendance including active duty, retirees and Academy cadets, who are the future of our officer corps.

The best part was that I did not feel out of place being junior enlisted. I felt like one of the many visitors who were there to take part in an opportunity for character development. Each speaker offered their unique message about leadership development, which isn’t just for supervisors or commanders.

The first speaker I listened to was retired Col. Leon Ellis, president of Leadership Freedom, LLC. His seminar was titled, “Leading with Honor: Leadership lessons from the Hanoi Hilton.”

Ellis spoke about his time as a POW after his plane was shot down in Vietnam and what he learned about leadership during his six years in captivity.

“Your story is one of the most important aspects of your leadership, Ellis said. “People look for authenticity.”

Though my chances of being a POW are slim, his story still resonates with me. I can put my best effort toward everything I do, and one day be an example to my Airmen.

Another speaker who really stuck out to me was Command Chief Master Sgt. Ramon Colon-Lopez, U.S. Africa Command’s senior enlisted leader.

Colon-Lopez spoke candidly about his time as a pararescueman and his battles with post-traumatic stress. He also shared many nuggets of wisdom from his experience as a leader.

“To keep our young Airmen motivated, the most important thing to tell them is don’t quit,” Colon-Lopez said. “Remember to stay real, stay grounded and never take yourself too seriously.”

He noted everyone has their challenges and it can be easy to want to give up at certain times. But I know I cannot succeed if I quit and I can also motivate those around me when they feel like quitting.

The most important thing that I took away from this experience is that you don’t need to have troops to be a leader. Before the symposium, I didn’t consider myself a leader because I’m just an Airman, but there will always be opportunities for me to step up and be a leader amongst my peers or in various aspects of my life.

Overall, the speakers were encouraging, and the symposium was an incredible way to learn from people with different perspectives on leadership, derived from their own unique experiences.

The NCLS is one of the many professional development opportunities hosted by 20th AF ICE. ICE offers a number of opportunities for Airmen to develop themselves professionally and personally.

For more information and for access to the full schedule of events, contact the Professional Development Program team at