Airmen from the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea, recently participated in RED FLAG-Alaska 15-1 at Eielson Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 6 to 17. View the photo gallery to learn more about this Pacific Air Forces field training exercise.
By Staff Sgt. Natasha Stannard
42nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
Brian Walker didn’t need to take a leave of absence from the law practice he owns in Fort Worth, Texas, or take the pay cut that goes with it in exchange for a summer in Montgomery, Ala., where sweat starts pouring down faces like rain trailing down a window during a rain storm. The Air Force Reserve captain also didn’t need to trade the space of his 50-acre ranch with five horses and crops for a 600 square-foot billeting room.
“It’s a sacrifice I wanted to make because I believe that teaching is so important,” said Walker. “There are things that I have seen in our Air Force that I think we need to instill in our officer corps that are important to me. So, I decided I want to make a sacrifice to be a part of the process of training officers.” Continue reading Answering the call to serve
by Airman 1st Class Joshua Kleinholz
99th Air Base Wing Public Affairs
“The drop is in 12 minutes!” shouted a crew member, struggling to be heard over the roar of the mighty C-17 Globemaster III’s four engines, each putting out approximately 40,000 pounds of thrust.
Quickly I made my way down the ladder from the flight deck and started the perilous walk toward my seat at the very end of the C-17’s massive fuselage. I grabbed anything possible to avoid being thrown to the floor during the pilot’s aggressive banking, with thousands of dollars of Air Force camera equipment on my back. Mercifully, I made it to my seat, flipped it down and strapped in.
12 minutes later, like clockwork, the fuselage was flooded with sunlight as the ramp was lowered. The first of many parachutes was attached to a formidable piece of Air Force construction equipment prior to it being slid out the back into the blue sky.
In all the commotion, I had just enough time to get my camera into position and snap off those last few shots as the massive piece of steel was ripped out of the back of the aircraft headed for the desert valley below. I was left in awe watching it glide down through the clouds of flare smoke to the intended drop zone wondering, how did I get here?
Just nine months ago, I was a brand-new high school graduate working at a Sonic Drive-In, in Gilbert, Ariz. Ask anyone who knew me and they’d tell you I was always good in school. In fact, I graduated with a 3.75 GPA at one of the highest-rated schools in Arizona.
But I already knew that college wasn’t for me; the military was all I really wanted.
I was off to basic military training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, Sept. 25, 2012, where I was “introduced” to my new life, and started from the bottom to learn the ins and outs of military life. Both of my instructors were staff sergeants, so it’s funny for me looking back to a time when a person with four stripes was intimidating beyond approach, any officer was even scarier and a general was a myth.
I was assigned a 3N0X5A Air Force specialty code, and suddenly I was an Air Force photojournalist expected to show the faces and tell the story of the Air Force. This is a formidable task for a fresh high school graduate who’s been a part of the Air Force for less than six months and remains admittedly unaware of most of its workings.
Fast forward just six months, and I’m packing my camera bag full of water and beef jerky in preparation for what’s sure to be the high point of my career thus far — a day onboard a C-17 flying through a simulated combat environment.
Upon arrival at my assigned aircraft, I was able to observe the last checks and inspections on the cargo, a massive 820th RED HORSE backhoe. Parachutes of various sizes and innumerable cords, ties and hooks adorned the massive piece of equipment, with any moving parts packed tightly in place. This thing was in for a rough ride, and the hours of meticulous rigging and packing were a clear indication of its value to warfighters on the ground.
I sat down and checked my equipment, cleaned lenses and adjusted camera settings as I awaited takeoff. I remember pulling out my phone and checking my Facebook profile, reading about some people I knew back home still at their old jobs, doing the same old things and dealing with the same old problems.
“Where do you want to sit?” asked the aircraft’s energetic loadmaster, Staff Sgt. Steven Doubler from the 57th Weapons Squadron, at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., as he pointed to various spots around the fuselage. Thrilled to even have a choice in the matter, I immediately took him up on his offer to spend my day on the flight deck observing the skills and processes involved with flying such a hulking machine in a simulated-contested environment.
At the top of the ladder to the flight deck, I was briefly greeted by the crew who were understandably quite busy checking the functionality of endless buttons, dials and displays.
Once in the air and en route to “enemy territory,” the group of five experienced pilots took the opportunity to really teach me the ins and outs of the day’s mission. My questions and observations were met with great enthusiasm by Lt. Col. Shawn Serfass, the 57th Weapons Squadron director of operations, there along with Brig. Gen. Charles Moore, the 57th Wing commander, to oversee and evaluate all aspects of the exercise from the best seat in the house — the formation lead C-17.
Talking with Serfass, it became immediately clear how passionate and enthusiastic he was about the exercise and the air combat mission as a whole. He showed me a variety of what he simply called “products,” that were really quite complex graphs and maps developed by U.S. Air Force Weapons School, or USAFWS, planners that choreographed every aspect of the mission. Who, what, when, where and what if, all down to the minute.
“This is an example of how the mission would go in a perfect world,” Serfass said with maps in hand gesturing towards our pilot, Capt. Matthew Purcell, a 57th Weapons Squadron USAFWC student.
He went on to explain in depth what makes a USAFWS graduate uniquely qualified versus those Airmen who haven’t had the opportunity to attend. He said the sophisticated planning is vital, but pilots need to be trusted to make experienced and educated decisions if things go wrong.
“What if somebody’s a few minutes late? What if we miss the drop zone? What if we lose an aircraft?” Serfass said, listing just a few aspects of the plan that could go awry.
“The air war has started,” said Maj. Nate Hagerman, the aircraft commander, grinning in his seat behind the co-pilot. “Friendly” fighters had crossed into the Nevada Test and Training Range and were engaging with “enemy” aggressor aircraft and simulated surface-to-air missile sites in order to lighten the resistance for the cargo aircraft transporting equipment and paratroopers. Pilots from the 64th and 65th Aggressor Squadrons, flying F-15C Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons bearing aggressive foreign paint schemes, are experts in adversary tactics and certainly wouldn’t make it easy.
Eventually, the formation of 13 C-17s was cleared to converge on the drop zone; it was time.
I watched the numbers on the altimeter in the pilot’s heads-up display decrease at an alarming rate, and grabbed a solid piece of railing as Capt. Purcell threw our aircraft into a plunge between the mountains toward the desert floor — 1,500 feet, 1,200 feet, 900 feet, 600 feet; the numbers kept falling.
“Why are we flying so low?” I turned to my right and asked Serfass, who was also bracing himself against the aggressive pitches and dives over and between mountains.
“It’s the radar!” he said excitedly, turning to me and pulling off one side of his headset. “We need to stay low so we don’t get picked up. Just be careful and hold onto something, you’ll get a good leg work out!”
I laughed and turned my head back toward the cockpit window, where Purcell had us sideways yet again, bobbing up and down in his seat and bending his neck checking all his sightlines and expertly maneuvering into position for the drop.
In that moment I remember thinking to myself, “so this is what it’s like.” I remember thinking about all the dedicated pilots who flew, and continue to fly real missions like this every day. Missions infinitely more perilous than the relatively controlled exercise I was sent to document that day. And as I, a humble airman first class in a cramped cockpit with weapons officers ranging from captain to brigadier general, sat back and observed the focus and attention to detail put on display by the aircrew. It was blatantly apparent to me why the United States has the best Air Force in the world.
PHOTO: A piece of heavy land-moving equipment is dropped out of the back of a C-17 Globemaster III May 31, over the Nevada Test and Training Range. As part of the Joint Forcible Entry exercise, heavy equipment was dropped into simulated-contested drop zones to assist forces on the ground. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joshua Kleinholz)
Shortly after its birth as a separate service, American Airmen have worn the color blue.
Blue represents the sky above earth; a medium the Air Force first aimed to conquer. Blue in our uniforms, in our shield and in our official symbol is also commonly connected to loyalty and courage. Airmen have shown loyalty and courage in every significant conflict since the dawn of flight and continue doing so today.
Air Force blue begins entering our lives in basic military training. We learn about being Airmen. We share common experiences, learn attention to detail and become eager to dedicate ourselves to the mission. We are forged in the furnaces before proceeding to technical training where we learn a skill. Our instructors teach us the professional standards we need to follow in our specific career fields. Here, we are shaped and polished. When we report to our first assignment we are “blue”. Our blue is strong, straight and true. We have become weapons of our nation — weapons of the highest quality and accuracy.
As we go about our daily lives, on and off duty, in and out of uniform, we face challenges, weather storms, experience occasional failures and meet with other forms of adversity. We listen to others complain. We grow tired of facing the same obstacles at every turn. Sometimes we run across situations we haven’t been trained to handle and get discouraged. Since we are human, these things can wear away at our blue. They can make us dull. As with any weapon or tool, constant use without periodic maintenance can lower effectiveness. Airmen are no different.
Bluing is a process often used by gun manufacturers, gunsmiths and gun owners to improve the cosmetic appearance of, and provide corrosion resistance to, firearms, according to Walter J. Howe in his 1946 book, “Professional Gunsmithing”. All blued parts still need to be properly oiled to prevent rust.
Professional military education is a rebluing process for Airmen.
In the course of our studies, activities and even social events, we improve our cosmetic appearance — reminding one another about the proper wear of the uniform and the importance of a professional image. We obtain corrosion resistance as we discuss the core values and the noncommissioned officer and senior NCO responsibilities. We reaffirm our collective dedication to professional standards. This reaffirmation defends us from cynicism, negative thoughts and griping. Just as it does with worn firearms, our rebluing process returns us to the highest quality and accuracy.
In Air Force PME, the rebluing process serves exactly the same purpose it serves with any worn weapon. It improves cosmetic appearance, prevents corrosion and improves overall functionality.
When America takes up arms to defend herself against those who would destroy our way of life, her aim is straight and true because as Airmen, we remain blue.
PHOTO: Master Sgt. Tiffany Bettisworth, Airman Leadership School commandant, evaluates students during a drill ceremony March 7, 2012, at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. Bettisworth directs the five week-long professional military education program designed to develop Airmen into effective front-line supervisors. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Daniel Hughes)
Last Friday, almost 13 years after I graduated from German Army basic military training, I graduated from United States Air Force Basic Military Training.
I was a former German tank commander and military training instructor in the Bundeswehr, serving as required for my native country. Now, I will be an air transportation specialist in the U.S. Air Force Reserve, serving my adopted country.
I like the military lifestyle. It is organized and has a structure. If you work hard, you can advance faster, go through the ranks, get more responsibility, and always learn something new. You always meet new people and get to move around the world.
I joined because I liked the military. I gave up my German military career so that my American wife, Julie, could have her U.S. Air Force career. I don’t regret my decision, as we have a beautiful family and a great life. But, I was missing the military, and I’m glad to have this opportunity to serve again.
Since I already served in the military, and since I was once an instructor myself, there weren’t really any surprises for me during U.S. Air Force BMT. I was reminded, though, about the importance of patience. Most of the trainees were much younger than me. They didn’t catch on to military lifestyle as fast as I wanted them to. I was picked as element leader in the first week, and it was easy to fall back into the instructor role. I knew I could do the things that were required, but the others were still learning. I had to slow down and be hands-on with helping others, teaching them to pay attention to detail.
There were many differences between German military basic training and U.S. Air Force basic training. At the time of my service, all young men had to serve. Not everyone wanted to be there. Eventually, everyone learned what they needed to learn and came together as a team. But in the U.S. military, everyone volunteers. While there were still attitude problems every now and then, ultimately, everyone wanted to be there, and I could sense the difference.
I am glad I have this second opportunity to serve again, and I look forward to my Air Force Reserve career.
PHOTO: Airman Basic Martin Weckerlein stands on the parade field with his family after graduating from Air Force Basic Military Training on April 12. Weckerlein was assigned to the 326th Training Squadron, Flight 270, at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. (Courtesy photo)