By Maj. Mary Harrington, 104th Fighter Wing
/ Published November 06, 2015
Wednesday, November 4, 2015; Nellis Air Force Base -- Our most successful life achievements are collaborative... success is scarcely ever the result of one effort. Together, we combine our greatest skills and determinations to attain the ultimate accomplishments.
This fact of life is quite evident at the USAF Weapons School's Weapons Instructor Courses (WICs) at Nellis AFB, "home of the fighter pilot." The USAF Weapons School's WICs provide graduate-level training to tacticians, ensuring cutting-edge training and full-spectrum preparation for land, air, cyber and space battle. The five-month program includes about 400 hours of academics, combined with arduous combat training missions.
Support for each WIC is provided by military units throughout the country, with the Air National Guard taking an increasingly larger role. "Air National Guard support for the USAF Weapons School bridges the gap between Weapons School requirements and active duty sortie generation capacity. The continued support allows the USAF Weapons School to produce the number and quality of Weapons Officers the USAF so desperately needs. This is a shining example of Total Force Integration done right. The USAF is more lethal because of the maintenance and operations support delivered by the ANG and AF Reserve here at Nellis," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey Cannon, a deputy commandant at the USAF Weapons School.
Currently, 114 members of the 104th Fighter Wing from Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Mass. are deployed to support the USAF Weapons School for two weeks. The mighty F-15 Eagles will simulate adversaries in the air. During the upcoming "Core II" phase of training, students focus on "integration academics" and hands-on mission planning exercises. Integration academics include everything from offensive-counter air, defensive-counter air, suppression-of-enemy air defenses, electronic warfare, low-observable strike as well as nuclear, space and cyber warfare. The Weapons School trains USAF airmen to be the world's best across the total spectrum of air, space, and cyber warfare.
There are two Weapons School classes per year lasting five months each. Each class graduates 120 students across all weapons systems in the USAF inventory. Students specialize in different airframes, weapons or specialties. Of those 120 students, about three are from the F-15C community. Maj Michael Glass, a 131st Fighter Squadron pilot, is the 104th Fighter Wing's most recent Weapons School graduate, completing the demanding course last June. Graduates wear the illustrious Weapons School graduate patch, a prestigious honor for the top guns. "We have about nine Weapons School graduates assigned to the 104th Fighter Wing, eight of which fly with the 131st Fighter Squadron," said Lt. Col. Tom Bladen, the 104th Fighter Wing's Operations Group commander. "This is an impressively high number, compared to active duty squadrons, which normally have about two or three graduates."
"Wings rely on the Weapons School to produce weapons officers; the Weapons School depends on those wings to provide the support required to produce the weapons officers," said Lt. Col. Jon Berardinelli, another deputy commandant of the USAF Weapons School. "Over the last six months, we have asked the Guard to provide even more support in the adversary role. It's something that we need, due to a reduced number of active duty assets, and it's trending in the right direction. A formal arrangement is going to take a collaborative effort and commitments across all Major Commands and the National Guard Bureau - all for the greater good."
"The 104th has been supporting the Weapons School for many years," said Col. James Keefe, Commander of the 104th Fighter Wing. "Whether back in the A-10 days or now with the F-15C's, we take this role as our responsibility to ensure we have the most highly trained fighter pilots protecting our nation. It's important to us, the US military, and the nation," he said. "Through our consistent support of the Weapons School, the 104th has helped maintain a consistent flow of highly trained USAF aircrews for not only the Air National Guard, but also for the active duty and reserves. Today's total force Air Force is a seamless team that can integrate at a moment's notice to defeat any adversary. With the drawdown of our active forces and decreasing defense budgets, we, the ANG, need to fill in wherever we can to ensure the security of our homeland and our allies."
"Each person on this deployment plays an important role," said Maj. Michael Dibrindisi, project officer for the 104th Fighter Wing's Weapons School support effort. "On top of primary jobs, there are multiple additional duties that our members pick up to ensure that our group is working collaboratively and our performance is top notch," said Dibrindisi. "For example," added Master Sgt. Elvis Martinez, "I am a non-destructive testing technician as my primary air force specialty code, but on this trip, I am also helping with taking pictures of incentive rides, providing transportation and more," he said. "I really like that because we are getting hands-on exposure to other career fields beyond our own. In turn, there's much better synchronization and teamwork. The experience helps all of us in numerous ways," said Martinez.
The 104th Fighter Wing's Weapons School deployment is the first of four significant events for the Wing in fiscal year 2016, followed by Red Flag, a EUCOM deployment and an airshow. "All of this experience ensures that we are ready when our nation needs us and we can demonstrate to our community what the members of the 104th Fighter Wing do every day to be the most respected fighter wing in the Combat Air Force," said Keefe. "Meanwhile, back at the Barnes, we are still performing our 24/7 air sovereignty alert mission to protect the northeast corridor of the United States. The Massachusetts Air National Guard also recently announced another state partnership program with Kenya, in addition to our existing partnership with Paraguay. I think all of this speaks to the versatility of the Air National Guard and its people, and the importance of our collaborative contribution on many fronts...home and abroad."