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CCAF appoints chief as first enlisted as vice commandant

  • Published
  • By Christine Harrison
  • Air University Public Affairs
The Community College of the Air Force here recently appointed an Air National Guard chief master sergeant as its first enlisted vice commandant since the school's creation more than 35 years ago. 

Chief Master Sgt. Joseph Thornell is the first enlisted Airman to serve in the position historically held by an active-duty officer.

"When I came into the service 31 years ago, enlisted members were expected to do well on their jobs and getting an education was a second-term goal," he said. "That mentality restricted personal growth. Today's enlisted force has more opportunities for education than ever before, and those prospects are not a coincidence. It's a transformation in the enlisted concept and a reflection of rising education levels in the enlisted ranks."

The former command chief holds a master's degree in leadership from Bellevue University in Omaha, Neb., and served in the South Dakota K-12 school system as a chief education officer.

His military background and civilian skills as superintendent of a school district led to his appointment, he said, which is another first for members of the Air National Guard.

Chief Thornell said he is the first guardsman selected for a strategic-level Air Force enlisted position, but the Guard is working hard to educate its people for such positions of policy.

"I hope this brings attention to the skill sets of our guardsmen," he said.

Community College of the Air Force is the largest community college in the world with 332,874 students currently enrolled in degree programs.

Lt. Col. Ray Staats, the current CCAF commandant, was the last commissioned officer to serve as vice commandant and said this "historic milestone" marks extraordinary advancement in higher education in the enlisted corps.

"Chief Thornell, as our first enlisted vice commandant as well as a CCAF alumni, epitomizes the educational accomplishments of today's Airmen," he said. "His Air Force career showcases the opportunities that are created for Americans, whether military or civilian, who passionately pursue higher education."
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