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Inaugural ceremony honors CCAF graduates

CCAF Graduates pose for a group photo after the CCAF graduation held at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla. on August 16, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by AB Nitza Muniz)

CCAF Graduates pose for a group photo after the CCAF graduation held at the 125th Fighter Wing, Jacksonville Fla. on August 16, 2014. (U.S. Air Force photo by AB Nitza Muniz)

Nearly two dozen Airmen collected their associate's degrees during a graduation ceremony held Aug. 16 at Jacksonville Air National Guard Base. -- Friends, families and fellow Airmen gathered in the dining facility here to honor these Airmen who had earned their degrees through the Community College of the Air Force. Dr. David Garner, the associate dean of arts and sciences at Florida State College Jacksonville, spoke about how education enhances the career paths of these Airmen.

"The mission of the Community College of the Air Force is to provide a path to higher education for those who have a calling to serve," Garner said. "Give yourself the best possible shot for success, and stay on that path."

Garner is also a retired Air Force Major who began his military career as an Airman. He earned his first degree from the CCAF in 1977, and continued his education throughout his military career. Garner said his degree continued to pay off throughout his life, even into his retirement, and encouraged the graduates to continue their education as well.

"Think about your path and where the future is going to lead you," Garner said. "Be prepared when opportunity knocks."

The graduation ceremony was put on by the Junior Enlisted Council and the Chief's Council. Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Seger said he personally wanted to celebrate the accomplishments of these graduates because in the early years of the CCAF, degrees were handed out during commander's calls and other meetings without any recognition. He said he didn't think that was right, and that's why he wanted to put on a ceremony for these graduates.

"The CCAF is not just a piece of paper that people got handed in commander's call," Seger said. "It's an accredited degree."

The CCAF degree was the first degree for some of the graduates, who now have the opportunity to walk into four-year universities as juniors. Seger said he felt the ceremony was extremely important to acknowledge that accomplishment, and the growth of the enlisted force as a whole.

"Everyone is starting to recognize that the air enlisted force is very educated, Seger said. "We're going from being good at our jobs here in the military, to being very competitive on the outside too.

"It's what I call the Total Airman."

The Community College of the Air Force is the largest, multi-campus community college in the world, with affiliated schools in 37 states and 9 foreign locations. Each year, CCAF students earn more than 1.6 million hours of college credits, and the college has awarded more than 335,000 degrees since 1977.

This was the first ceremony of its kind, but Seger said this was just the beginning. He said plans have already begun for the second CCAF graduation ceremony where he hopes to see 100 graduates lining up to walk.

"Our goal is to make this as important to the recipients as possible," Seger said. "I want them to be proud to bring their families there to see them graduate."