SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- Tech. Sgt. Seth Loppe, a sensor operator assigned to the 178th Operations Group, was awarded the John L. Levitow Award for excellence in professional military education. Loppe graduated from Noncomissioned Officer Academy (NCOA) in March of 2021 with an academic average of 100 percent. This achievement earned Loppe the spot as the top graduate in a class of approximately 240 Airmen.
Loppe enlisted in the Ohio Air National Guard as a security forces defender at the 178th Wing in 2006. While assigned to the 178th Security Forces Squadron, Loppe deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
“While in Iraq I saw for the first time just how broad the Air Force’s contribution to armed conflict truly was. When I finally left Iraq in 2011, I began searching for a career field that would offer me a more tangible impact as an individual in the current conflicts,” said Loppe.
Upon returning home, he transitioned career fields to become a remotely piloted aircraft sensor operator in the 178th Operations Group. This position allowed Loppe to become closer to the fight through providing real-time surveillance, actionable intelligence, and close air support to units deployed down range. Over the years, Loppe succeeded in his role thus leading him to become an instructor sensor operator for the squadron. This position allows him to train new Airmen and take on additional responsibilities in the squadron.
“Like most sensor operators, I have spent the majority of my career flying in combat operations,” said Loppe. “However, that isn’t our only responsibility. Once experienced, we are also expected to perform additional duties within the squadron of assignment. I have been in current operations, training, scheduling and now on flight to train and equip our newer members for continued success.”
In order to reach the rank of Master Sergeant, Airmen must be an expert in their job with extensive knowledge and efficiency while also possessing leadership qualities. Airmen must also attend NCOA. NCOA is the second level of enlisted professional military education and prepares Technical Sergeants to be professional, war-fighting Airmen who can manage and lead units.
Loppe attended the five week-long education course in February. Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, this course was nontraditional held entirely virtual through Microsoft Teams.
“We would have a morning meeting with our instructor to discuss how we would go about tackling each day’s objectives, and we would have follow-up questions about the course’s long-term objectives,” said Loppe. In my class, we were asked to record our dialog and thoughts via Teams. This way we could have more personal interactions and get a better feel for one another throughout the curriculum thus making our class a more effective team.”
Although the class adapted to a virtual environment, attending the academy virtually was not without challenges. Residents of the virtual class were mostly attending from their homes which means they had to wrap their class and studying time around their day-to-day lives and responsibilities. Loppe set a goal for himself upon entering the class that he would give his undivided attention to the course, give his best effort, and be able to leave NCOA being proud of what he accomplished. In order to challenge himself and showcase his leadership potential, Loppe volunteered to be class leader.
“I promised myself I would give it everything I had,” said Loppe. “I asked our instructor for expectations and responsibilities of my new position. I listened to my flight’s concerns and helped in every reasonable way I could. I sent group message reminders for exam deadlines, and held late night study sessions on Teams. I served as an intermediary between the flight and our instructor to limit misunderstandings. I also spent a great deal of time proof-reading and talking through projects both with individuals and the whole class.”
Through his role as class leader, Loppe’s was able to hone his leadership skills and grow as and Airmen and leader.
“You’re given significant responsibility above what you would normally have, and it’s entirely up to you to succeed,” said Loppe. “One thing I took away from it is that leadership isn’t an additional duty, it’s a full-time job. Leadership is a zero sum game. You either give 100 percent to those you seek to mentor until they’re ready to take the next step, or you’ve failed them.”
Loppe’s efforts did not go unnoticed and earned him the spot as top graduate in his class out of approximately 240 Airmen. His biggest takeaway from this experience was being prepared to succeed but also to fail.
“I would argue that the biggest take away for me personally is that you have to be prepared for both success and failure,” said Loppe. “Success on one hand, sounds great. However, some can feel that once you’re operating on that level, anything less than excellence is now subpar. Failure on the other hand is something I feel we should embrace both professionally and personally. We all fail at something or at some point in our lives, and it isn’t the end that we’ve been told that it is. If I let risk of failure rule my decisions I would not have completed this course how I did.”
Being a true leader entails servant leadership. Loppe’s advice to Airmen attending professional development courses is to not only manage their time wisely, follow class guidelines, and set goals for one’s self but to also help other Airmen succeed.
“Be genuine, helpful and transparent,” said Loppe. “We are all striving for improvement, and I’ve found that sometimes stopping and assisting others in their goals, and learning from them can help me attain my goals in the future. “