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178th Wing Airman graduates FBI National Academy

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On a sunny March morning, 247 men and women gathered in Quantico, Virginia to graduate as the 285th session of the FBI National Academy. Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Distel, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard sat among them, the first of more than 54,000 overall graduates to be selected from the Air National Guard. Months following his graduation, Distel reflected on his selection for the academy, what his typical day was like, and how he believes it will help him be a better leader to his airmen.

“The course itself was designed for senior law enforcement,” said Distel. “My background has always been either criminal justice or infantry and civilian law enforcement. I worked for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections for about eight years before taking this job. So, I have that senior executive-level law enforcement background already. Then acting as the operations superintendent here, I’m in charge of all operations with respect to security and law enforcement on this installation. I think that made me an easy nominee. I think Chief Bowden thought my package would be strong enough to compete and obviously he did, or he would not have put me in for it.”

Chief Master Sgt. Pete Bowden is the Senior Enlisted Leader of the 178th Security Forces Squadron.

“Senior Master Sgt. Distel is the best there is,” said Chief Bowden. “When we submitted his name to compete, we knew that if anyone would be selected for this prestigious program, it would be Sergeant Distel.”

Less than one percent of law enforcement professionals are selected to attend the national academy and participants must have proven records as professionals within their agency.

Distel stated he was thankful and humbled for the opportunity to represent his wing, the state of Ohio, and the Air National Guard as a whole.

Internationally known for its academic excellence, the academy offers 10 weeks of advanced communication, leadership, and fitness training.

Distel said he was able to choose five classes from a list of options the academy offered, in addition to a physical training course. Each day consisted of a rotating pattern, which involved attending three of the five courses, and regular physical fitness.

He said the most impactful course was psychology of leadership, where each student had to give a 30-minute presentation on one moment in their life that put them on a path to the type of leader they are today.

“Honestly, that was one of the most humbling experiences I’ve been through,” Distel admitted. “I was in a class with 30 to 36 people and every one of them got up there and told a story I could not believe. Every story was very impactful, and it allowed me to understand that if you are going to lead people you have to know everyone’s dealing with something. Everyone has overcome something in their life that is very significant to them and taking that for granted or discrediting that would be a huge leadership mistake, in my opinion.”

When asked what he felt was the most rewarding part of the course he said it came down to two things.

“I would say definitely having the time to focus on myself,” said Distel. “Some self-reflection to take the time to become a better leader and think about how I could do that and how I could apply the things I was learning there when I came home. The other benefit was the people I was surrounded with. They would often say this is the top one percent of law enforcement in the country and while I would say that is a bold statement, it was accurate. There were a lot of amazing people there from all over the United States and other countries were represented. I made some life-long connections. I think our unit is better positioned because of the connections I was able to make should a natural disaster happen.”

Distel believes having made so many connections will be invaluable if a moment comes where his people find themselves being sent into an unknown situation. He hopes he would be able to shed some light on what they are about to get themselves in to and how they can better prepare themselves just by making a few phone calls.

“Our defenders at the 178th SFS must remain ready at all times,” said Distel. “Both for domestic and world-wide to threats to the United States of America. Often those deployments and activations can come at a moment’s notice and can come with a lot of uncertainty and not a lot of facts about what we are about to enter into. Having those connections will be critical to making our response to those situations that much more effective.”

Distel said the whole experience was beneficial to him and he hopes to use what he has learned in the future.

“Hopefully over the next coming of years I am able to take those concepts and make them my own and understand how to better use them in the environment here in the SFS,” he said. “Hopefully that will make me a better leader and make the squadron a better squadron.”