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For a retired colonel, the NCO academy's Hall of Fame

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Mike R. Smith
  • I.G. Brown Training and Education Center
The umpteenth time that he drove here to the I.G. Brown Training and Education Center, retired Col. Edmund C. Morrisey arrived early to exercise among the other retirees and Airmen in Wilson Hall. He parked in his usual parking spot and wished good mornings to passersby.

The 86-year-old Morrisey then walked on the treadmill, pulled on the rowing machine, lifted weights and pedaled on the stationary bike. He tries to do these exercises two or three mornings a week, and credits it partly for his trim waistline.

He left the base as he normally does: with no fanfare. Sometimes he stops to talk with an Airman who asks for his mentorship. Sometimes he discretely drops off baskets of fresh local strawberries, or corn, or peaches, in the staff break rooms - with modest amusement, like a secret admirer.

If there's an NCO academy or an Airman leadership school graduation, Morrisey arrives in his business attire to applaud the accomplishments at the ceremony from his favorite spot: in the back of the auditorium. He attends only if invited - he always attends.

The TEC's first commander and commandant, Morrisey said that he's still reassured in what he calls the Air National Guard's "crown jewel" for learning and leadership, and that it has not stultified. It has been 47 years since its start - he retired more than 31 years ago - but he stays attentive to the TEC's energy and image. "I think I'm identified as the resident geezer, but I don't know if it's on their staff briefing," Morrisey joked, while taking a break from his workout.

It's not like Morrisey has nothing else going on in retirement - he will tell you how he and a friend enjoy gathering golf balls around the area to give to kids. He has other interests that keep him busy.

In conviction, the silver-haired veteran - the only colonel that the Air National Guard ever inducted into the Air Force Order of the Sword - likes to keep a low profile when on the campus. "I'm a strong believer that every dog has its day," said Morrisey. "I have a great respect for the commander and staff here."

An only child from Connecticut, and an all-American prep-school swimmer, Morrisey received his commission in 1952 through ROTC at Hartford's Trinity College. He left the regular military for some time before he rejoined the Connecticut Air National Guard as an operations officer. He later served in Germany and Colorado. He had a memorable encounter while serving with the Texas Air National Guard when he swore 2nd Lt. George W. Bush into service.

It was also during those days that Morrisey first experienced how World War II and Korean War veterans were changing the image of the Air National Guard - in one assignment, supporting a 1963 win in the Air Force's William Tell aerial gunnery competition.

"What really blindsided us was that civilian and military members considered us less than professional," Morrisey recalled in 2001, during the classroom building's dedication in his name.

Morrisey's journey with the TEC began as a major in July 1968, when he traveled from Texas to take command of a new school that taught leadership to enlisted Guardsmen. He said that his mentor and boss, Maj. Gen. I.G. Brown, the director of the Air National Guard, was his inspiration for a goal that never left him: that the perception of the Air National Guard must change.

"His advice was very simple, he said 'make this work,' and little did I know the extent that 'make this work' would spread to," Morrisey said during the TEC's 45th anniversary celebration.

But back at the fitness center, Morrisey remembered the enormous challenge they had in earning the school its reputation; nevertheless, it took them just five years to become known as "the premier institution."

They produced an NCO academy, an Airman leadership school and the officer preparatory academy (forerunner of today's Academy of Military Science). They also garnered accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges - the first Air Force professional military education center to do so, he said.

"That did not happen accidently," said Morrisey.

In some ways, General Brown's challenge carried on long after the NCO academy's first staff of six instructors, two administrators and Morrisey's Commandant, Chief Master Sgt. Paul H. Lankford. From their first 103 graduates to about 40,000 graduates today, Morrisey said that the Air National Guard shaped its image as a professional organization with those formations of Airmen.

Today the TEC's Paul H. Lankford Enlisted PME Center runs the Air Force's largest, continually running total force NCO academy.

"I finally determined that regardless of whether you are a Guardsman, or a Reservist or on active duty status, you are now all brought into the expected level of performance," said Morrisey. "I'm just so pleased, and that's why you see as much of me here as you do. It's just a pleasure to see the things that are happening."

The Air National Guard's NCO Academy Graduates Association formed from the first graduating class, and its present-day members recognized Morrisey this week with a lifetime achievement: they inducted him into their Hall of Fame.

"That is our top award," said retired Chief Master Sgt. Janice Richardson, association president, who oversees 106 chapters, nationwide.

"He was the driving force that motivated the graduates to build our organization, add value to our units and communities and get more of our enlisted members to attend PME," cited Morrisey's nomination.

But Morrisey could not travel to their annual conference, so the TEC's commander invited the association to present their award to him on a recent morning in Patriot Hall. The ceremony was just as he preferred - a simple presentation by the association's president in the lobby, with just a handful of people. "I am just tickled to death of the quality of the staff as well as the quality of the students coming here, and that makes my day happy," said Morrisey when applauded. "I hope everyone knows that I was a creation of really sharp noncommissioned officers."

Morrisey said that he is also pleased to join Chief Lankford among those honorees. Lankford - a World War II POW and a Bataan Death March survivor - served as commandant until 1981. He passed away in 2008 at the age of 89 with more than 42 years of regular Air Force and Air National Guard service.

"We had an agreement: I didn't know about enlisted PME and he was going to lead me there, and I was going to raise his perception of what the Air National Guard was all about," said Morrisey.

Morrisey then smiled and returned to his workout.