Thursday, July 12, 2018

Face of Defense: Student Flight Leader Affects Hundreds of New Airmen

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Mckenzie Airhart, 194th Wing

CAMP MURRAY, Wash. -- At the Washington Air National Guard’s 194th Wing here, the work of building airmen starts before basic military training, in student flight.

Student flight is where newly enlisted recruits spend drill weekends learning military customs and courtesies, rank structure, and other pertinent information to set them up for success at basic training. The program is led by Air Force Senior Master Sgt. John Austin, the force development superintendent for the 194th Wing and the student flight superintendent assigned to the 194th Force Support Squadron. After the recruiter, Austin is often a new enlistee’s first impression of the Air National Guard.

“To have the opportunity to shape and mold and mentor every new airman coming into the Wing -- that is as powerful as it gets, so there is a lot of pride in that,” Austin said.

Austin has welcomed every new recruit to the wing for the past seven years. He estimates that he has guided 500 airmen through student flight during that time.

Student flight is the best program the Air National Guard has to offer, Austin said. It is also the highlight of his career, he added.

“When you can go home at night and realize the impact you have on the state, on the country, on the Air Force, I mean this wholeheartedly, it is the best job you could ask for in the Air Force,” Austin said.

Prepared Airmen

Student flight alumni have been known to receive honors in training. This is due to recruits being better prepared, said retired 194th Wing Command Chief Master Sgt. Brian Waggoner. The airmen are able to do so well because of the example set by Austin in the program, Waggoner added.

It doesn’t take long to see that Austin exemplifies professionalism, Waggoner said. “I straighten myself before I go into his office,” he said. “He deserves the best leaders that we can be. I don’t want to let him down.”

Austin emphasizes the importance of setting an example. “If you don’t have those standards yourself, how do you pass them along and teach them to anybody else?” asked Austin.

Austin builds trust with new recruits in the program by taking a genuine interest in finding out who they are, said Airman 1st Class Tyree Overall, a packer with the 194th Logistics Readiness Squadron Traffic Management Office. Austin knows how to push people and challenge them to be better, Overall said.

“He commands a presence,” Overall said. “Sgt. Austin just has something about him.”

It’s an impression that sticks with 194th Wing airmen as they move forward in their careers, Waggoner said. “It’s interesting now when you see people pass him in the hallway or see him in the chow hall. That is still the guy they want to impress, they want him to see that they are still sharp,” he said.

Special-Operator Trainers Outline Evolution of the Battlefront Airman

By Terri Moon Cronk, DoD News, Defense Media Activity

WASHINGTON -- Candidates training to be special operators evolve to the enemy that's developing by adapting and trying to overcome it, two Air Force special-operator trainers said yesterday at the Pentagon in the Defense Department’s “Showcasing Lethality” briefing series.

“From the battlefront and the training enterprise, from our standpoint, we are the foundation of what builds our battlefront airmen, to include our combat control operators, our pararescuemen, our [tactical air control party] operators and our special operations,” said Air Force Master Sgt. Robert Gutierrez Jr., superintendent of standards and evaluations for Air Education and Training Command’s Battlefield Airmen Training Group, at Joint Base-San Antonio-Lackland in Texas.

He and Air Force Master Sgt. Thomas J. Gunnell, a tactical air control party craftsman assigned to the 26th Special Tactics Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base in New Mexico, provide some of the most rigorous training that goes into being a battlefield airman.

“We try to basically build individuals that would never quit, [and] get them through arguably some of the hardest DoD training that's out there,” Gutierrez said of the mostly junior-enlisted candidates, many of whom are right out of high school.

While the two trainers said their attrition rate used to be up toward 80 percent and 90 percent, it’s now closer to 69 percent. “It's still pretty rough, and it's extensive and hard,” Gunnell said of the selection and training processes.

Changes in Training

“How we have come to this point is honestly through innovation and change,” he said, noting implementation of courses, such as an eight-week pilot program called the Battlefront Airmen Preparatory Course, which has added to changes in training.

“We are making individuals that come through from [basic military training] fitter, faster, stronger and more mentally resilient,” Gunnell said, “[while we] familiarize them with the training and the types of environments we're going to put them in.”

Gutierrez emphasized how the jobs that result from the intense training involve huge responsibilities.

“In some instances,” Gutierrez said, “they're E-4s [or] E-5s controlling million-dollar aircraft, [and they] are responsible for lives and making the right moral and ethical decisions on the battlefield.”

Yet, the trainers don't just build war fighters -- they build responsible noncommissioned officers and train them to go out and “do the fight,” Gutierrez said. “We're building the best candidates out there in the world,” he added.

They agreed that today’s technology, which produced equipment such as unmanned aircraft and sophisticated munitions has taken training a long way in recent years.

Full-on Operators

Gunnell said trainers must turn candidates into “full-on operators” for the operational force because they're essential in light of the operations tempo made necessary by numerous global threats.

Training is now more science-based, with strength and conditioning coaches, athletic trainers and even physical therapists, he noted. “We have operations psychologists that are sitting there watching and assessing these candidates to make sure we are taking the right individual that's going to make the right decision when it's needed,” he said.

Emphasizing that safety is their No. 1 concern, the trainers said they prepare candidates in all environments to meet the needs of building a fitter, faster, stronger and mentally resilient airman to support any given effort. Gunnell said today’s candidates are “amazing” in their physical and mental abilities.

“We're not getting the same guys, probably, that [Gutierrez] and I were when we first came in,” he said. “The [people] we're getting now are stronger and smarter. Their aptitude levels are just unreal.

“It's awesome to see them grow from young airmen,” said he continued. “We put them out on the battlefield … in Afghanistan and Iraq, everywhere all over the world, and they just take it and come back with a little experience. They get a little confidence, and then we're able to grow a little bit further. I teach them so much based off what I've learned. But then they come back with that experience. They teach the next crop of guys coming in.”

Training special operations candidates is becoming more lethal, Gunnell said, drawing on experience from war in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We've been doing this for 17 years now, and it's helped us grow the nation's young people and [produce] some incredible individuals.”

Task Force Alamo Arrives in Djibouti, Assumes Security Mission

By Air Force Senior Airman Scott Jackson, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa

CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti -- One Texas Army National Guard battalion transferred security force responsibilities for Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa to another at a ceremony here July 5.

Soldiers assigned to 3rd Battalion, 144th Infantry Regiment, known as “Task Force Bayonet,” officially passed their mission to the soldiers of 1st Battalion, 141st Infantry Regiment, known as “Task Force Alamo.”

In its role as the task force’s security force battalion, the 1-141st will be responsible for rapidly deploying in response to any crisis threatening U.S. personnel or property throughout an area nearly half the size of the continental United States.

Welcome, Farewell

Army Lt. Col. Ross Walker, battalion commander of Task Force Bayonet, welcomed Lt. Col. Sean Ibarguen and the soldiers of Task Force Alamo.

“We came here with one goal, and that was to be better,” Walker said to his soldiers. “We have focused on mission command as well as individual and collective training. Through these accomplishments, you have increased Texas readiness.”

He commended them, but also told them not to stop their growth.

“This was not done by me or [the] command sergeant major,” he said. “It was done by the sergeant on the line driving readiness. The only thing I ask is, share your experience and be proud of your accomplishments, but not satisfied.”

Ibarguen accepted the authority on behalf of the Task Force Alamo soldiers and bid farewell to Task Force Bayonet. “We are ready to take on this mission,” he said. “Thank you, and always remember the Alamo.”
During their rotation here, the Task Force Alamo soldiers will contribute to international efforts to enhance security and stability in East Africa by providing security force assistance and fostering the capabilities of partner nations.