FURSTENFELDBRUCK, GERMANY (10/18/2012)(readMedia)-- For one intense week in September, more than 40 junior officers from seven countries participated in the International Junior Officer Leadership Development Course (IJOLD) 2012 at the German Air Force Officer School to enhance and refine their leadership skills, cultural understanding and military officership.
Capt. Stacey Rieger of San Jose, Ill., with the Illinois Air National Guard's 183rd Air Mobility Operations Squadron in Springfield was among four Air National Guard members selected by National Guard Bureau to participant in IJOLD 2012.
"There are not many leadership development programs available for junior officers," said Rieger. "This was an incredible opportunity to broaden my management and leadership skills with other company grade officers in a multi-national setting."
The Air Force Reserve Command sponsored IJOLDS program began in 1994 at the NATO school in Oberammergau, Germany with 18 participants from five countries. Since then, the annual event has expanded to include more than 60 students with briefings on international leadership, team building, cultural diversity, international relations and cross-cultural mobilization issues. This is the first year the National Guard Bureau has sponsored lieutenants and captains for the course.
"IJOLD is a great forum for junior officers from many countries to build relationships early in their careers," said Maj. Gen. Donald Ralph, mobilization assistance to the commander, U.S. Air Forces Europe and chairman for the Committee on Leadership Development. "Joint leadership training is essential in today's global arena, where working with multinational forces and partner nations is the standard."
Working together and understanding differences was a key aspect of the training.
Capt. Sam Stephens, of Tulsa, Okla., an F-16 pilot with the Oklahoma Air National Guard in Tulsa said, "Foreign militaries may have different customs, courtesies, and cultures, but people, as individuals, desire the exact same guidance and motivation to both follow and lead."
"Leadership is important to junior officers because of the responsibility of their rank, making them leaders from the start," said Col. Jim Kerr, Air Force Reserve Command Professional Development Center Chief. "IJOLD, and other programs like it, provide opportunities to bring young officers together to develop leadership skills."
IJOLD events ranged from lectures on German military structure and history to tours of the Bavarian state capital and German Air Force base. During the field exercise at the German Airborne Training School, participants worked together, overcoming leadership differences and communication challenges to accomplish various tasks. Communication was essential to accomplishing tasks, including a land navigation that required completing unique tasks at each waypoint.
Second Lt. Doug Carlson of Lincoln, Neb., from the 155th Air Refueling Wing, Nebraska Air National Guard, said listening was the one leadership skill he enhanced during IJOLD.
"Overcoming the language barrier creates the perfect opportunity to learn to listen rather than talk," said Carlson
Throughout activities, IJOLD participants shared their experiences with each other.
"One of my favorite aspects of IJOLD was having the time to talk to so many people from many different backgrounds. Since all the participants were reservists, everyone had at least two stories to tell – their military story and their civilian story," said Rieger. "Not only did I learn about the structure and history of the German military, I heard the personal element. For example, it was great to hear what some of our German counterparts thought about the wall coming down, reunification between East and West Germany and the challenges they are still working through, even after more than 20 years."
Those conversations enhanced the cultural understanding and supported international relations, which along with developing friendships and partnerships were main goals of IJOLD.
"It was sad to leave at the end of week," said Rieger. "I learned a great deal about our NATO partners, but more importantly, I have a new network of colleagues and friends that I look forward to seeing again in the future."
That sentiment is shared, not only by the participants, but by senior leaders who see the value in IJOLD and programs like it.
"I was amazed at the friendships that were made by the end of the week. It was almost weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, as the expression goes, when it came time to go home," said Kerr, who attended IJOLD in 2011.
Each year IJOLDS is conducted in a different NATO country. Past seminars have been held in Switzerland, Canada, the United States and the Netherlands. Next year England will host their international counterparts.