KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Mississippi —
Technology. sergeant. Dishau JeanJacques, 36th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadron noncommissioned officer in charge of resource management here, earned a distinction that only a small percentage of Airmen can claim when, after graduating from the Professional Military Enlisted Education Academy from the Lankford Center non-commissioned officers, she was awarded the John L Levitow Prize.
“NCOA is a six-week course designed to prepare Airmen to become senior noncommissioned officers,” Master Sgt. Justin Rae, NCOA instructor at EPME Lankford Center.
Coming into the course, JeanJacques’ goals and expectations were simple: to learn and grow.
“The big thing for me was learning to be the supervisor I needed when I was an airman,” she said. “I had these personal and individual goals to perform well and finish the course as the best performer, but what mattered to me was taking things out of the course that I could take back to my unit that would make me a better supervisor and leader and in turn allows me to mentor my Airmen and fellow NCOs on how to become better leaders.
Throughout the course, she said she learned a lot about leadership, prioritization, project management, diversity and inclusion.
“A lot of people think you’re either a born leader or you’re not,” she said. “There is no one way to lead. You have to know how to adapt to situations and take the time to know your Airmen to be an effective leader, and at the NCOA that’s what they taught us. We learned the difference between being a leader and being a manager and how important it is to include everyone and assess everyone’s needs in order to be most effective.
From the start of the course, Rae said JeanJacques stood out as extremely outstanding among his peers.
“She was always super professional, super square and just an absolute rock star,” he said. “As the course progressed, it was evident that she was both very intelligent and very humble. She was also caring, finding time to care for the people around her. She is the epitome of a good leader.
JeanJacques said the NCOA has not come without its challenges, citing the routine requirement of being able to digest, retain and regurgitate a lot of information in, often, a short period of time.
“You have to really buckle down and study throughout the course,” she said. “One day we were covering three or four chapters of information, and the next day we had to present that information as if we were (subject matter experts), so it was difficult and I really had to block out all the distractions for complete the course.
She also said there was a lot of teamwork involved in the course, which could be daunting, but ultimately rewarding due to the diverse perspectives she got to listen to and learn as they navigated the assignments.
“I think the hardest part for me was when we were working in a group or having to speak to the class and you had these sharp, mostly active peers assessing your leadership and communication skills,” she said. “But like everything, from the start I embraced the challenges and understood that getting out of my comfort zone was what was going to help me grow and be better.”
By the time graduation arrived, JeanJacques had already won one accolade: best performer for his flight. She said she was immensely honored to have received this as it was largely based on input from her peers. As the emcee went through the process of nominating the winners, she had her hopes in the Commander’s Award, for which she was named a finalist.
“At that time, I felt happy to just be a finalist. As they read the Levitow award information, I had no expectations because everyone in my NCOA class was snappy. I thought it would go to a young lady who was there from the Pentagon. It could have gone to anyone, really, and they would have deserved it,” she said. “Then he called my name, and I was so humbled.”
The John L. Levitow Award is the highest honor given to the top 1% of EPME graduates and is based on performance, peer, and instructor reviews. His namesake, Levitow, is the lowest-ranking Airman in the U.S. Air Force to receive the Medal of Honor, earning him the distinction for heroic actions when the Douglas AC-47 Spooky he was aboard crashed. was fired on during the Vietnam War.
While the large plaque she received was a nice addition, JeanJacques said it was the important leadership lessons she learned from the course that she is excited to bring to her office and to the 36th.
“In my experience, one thing I’ve noticed is that often it’s at the rank (of technical sergeant) that people start to lose the idea that they can make a difference,” said Rae. “But obviously Tech. sergeant. JeanJacques knows that she is precious and can have an impact wherever she goes. It was a pleasure to have her in my class and I am motivated simply by being able to serve with her.