The Non-Commissioned Officer Professional Military Education Ribbon (NCOPMER), which is awarded to graduates of certified NCO professional military education schools, was established in August, 1962. In point of fact, however, the Air Force had begun developing programs of professional military education for its enlisted personnel a dozen years earlier.
On November 23, 1949, United States Air Force Europe issued General Order No. 207 authorizing the establishment the first NCO Academy, named the USAFE Academy of Leadership and Management and located in Wiesbaden, Germany. Its curriculum was built upon sections of the Senior Military Management Course and was augmented by subjects taught at renowned civilian institutions such as the University of Pennsylvania and the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce.
The Wiesbaden school was closed in 1951, but its mantled was picked up by the Strategic Air Command NCO Academy based in West Drayton England. The first Air Force-certified academy, this new academy operated for more than six years and was critical in the development of professional military education curriculums.
Simultaneously, the H Q, Technical Training Air Force—forerunner of today’s Air Education and Training Command—began work on developing an NCO training program in May, 1952. Work on developing a curriculum was launched in June at the Training and Analysis Unit at Lackland Air Force Base, a process that was completed on August 5; amazingly the first class of NCOs began training that very same day. Among the courses taken by these first 15 NCO students were “The Art of Leadership,” Leadership in the Air Force,” and “Practical Problems in NCO Leadership.”
In January, 1954, General Curtis LeMay signed SAC Regulation 50-23, designed to provide a governance framework for NCO PME schools run by Strategic Air Command. Three years later, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Nathan Twining signed AFR 50-39, which codified enlisted PME and specifically spelled out its mission, i.e., to ensure that NCOs were aware of all their responsibilities and provide them the training necessary to fill their proper roles in the rapidly changing and expanding Air Force. It delineated four types of training course: NCO Preparatory, Senior NCO Academy, Accredited Senior NCO Academy, and Accredited NCO Preparatory training. In just a year after the regulation was issued, the total number of preparatory and senior NCO academies (overseas and continental U.S.) jumped from 30 to 65.
The Air Force’s PME program has undergone numerous changes over the years since then, particularly in the number and types of courses that are mandated at certain points in the career of NCOs. Most recently, changes regarding which programs qualified for awarding of the NCOPMER, most notably the addition of Distance Learning classes, were made in 2014 that are not yet reflected in AFI 36-2803, The Air Force Military Awards And Decorations Program. An explanation of the current requirements and a list of the courses that qualify for award of the NCOPMER are found in AFI36-2301_AFGM2016-01, Guidance Memorandum to AFI 36-2301, Developmental Education, released on 4 November 2016.
Note that the ribbon you see here is not the same decoration awarded throughout the 1960s. Before regulation changes in January, 1970 that introduced the NCOPMER, graduates of certified NCO PME schools wore a pale blue tab on epaulet of the left shoulder of the Class A uniform.