FORT LEE, Va. (March 3, 2011) -There was something about this graduation that gave Chief Master Sgt. James Gill a sense of pride and relief.
"I envy them," he said. "They're starting out fresh in the Air Force; they're going to their first bases, and they have so many opportunities in front of them, so many challenges."
Gill was sharing that sentiment after seeing the first Air Force Services Academy class graduate at the Transportation School auditorium Feb. 24. Getting to that moment, he said, was no small task.
"It was very challenging," said the chief enlisted manager of Fort Lee's 345th Training Squadron. "To take a squadron from an Air Force base to an Army post has been different, but I will tell you, though, the support we've received from Fort Lee and the Army has been really great."
Roughly 50 Airmen, Soldiers, civilians and family members attended the event. Horace L. Larry, deputy director of Air Force Services, Department of the Air Force, was the guest speaker.
The academy, located in a new wing of the Joint Culinary Center of Excellence, began its first class Jan. 4. It was previously located at Lackland AFB, Texas, and relocated to Fort Lee under provisions of the Base Realignment and Closure Law of 2005.
Twenty-four airmen received their graduation certificates in the six-week services course, which includes instruction on food service, lodging, fitness, mortuary affairs, recreation and protocol.
Tech Sgt. David Brier, a course instructor, said the graduation represented a lot of work that not only went into the training but moving and standing up the schoolhouse as well.
"It was definitely something I'm not used to," he said. "There was a lot of moving, lifting, carrying and inventorying - it was a long process. All of those were components of this graduation. I had feelings of elation just watching the students go by to receive their certificates."
The graduates are the first services students to undergo training since September of last year, said Gill.
"Their supervisors can't wait for them to get out there and start performing their missions," he said.
The graduates are loaded with anticipation as well. Airman 1st Class Naomi Sternes, a native of Alpine, Texas, said she is eager to start her career, after spending more time than usual in school due to an injury and having been assigned to both Lackland and Lee.
"I was on medical hold because I had a stress fracture in my angle," said Sternes, headed to Elmendorf AFB, Alaska. "So, I'm really excited I actually made it through the course. I love services, and I've been waiting to graduate for nine months."
Sternes' prolonged time in school gave her somewhat of an indoctrination into Air Force life and allowed her to make certain observations about Army life.
"Their structure is different; their customs and courtesies are a little different," she said, "and they are a little more uptight, I guess. It's a big change coming from an Air Force base to an Army post."
Fellow graduate Airman 1st Class Colin Allen thought there was some kind of mistake made when he learned he would be training at Fort Lee.
"When we first got here, I was dreading it," said the Pensacola, Fla., native. "I didn't know what to expect. I thought we were going to be doing everything the Army does, but being here and being able to interact not only with the Soldiers but also Marines and Sailors and seeing the differences were really interesting."
Fort Lee is not a joint base but has small representatives of each military assigned. Most of those personnel are either assigned to or attend the JCCoE, administered by the U.S. Army Quartermaster School. The school, consolidated less than two years ago, is the Department of Defense's sole food service training provider.