Magazine article National Defense

More Airmen Joining Air Force Special Operations Command

Magazine article National Defense

More Airmen Joining Air Force Special Operations Command

Article excerpt

The squadron in charge of training Air Force Special Operations Command gunship crews is adapting training methods to accommodate increasing numbers of newly winged airmen.

AFSOC used to be the second or third stop in an airman's career. But now 65 to 70 percent of the airmen are coming directly out of undergraduate pilot school and basic training because the demand for special operations forces is so high, says Lt. Col. Dag Anderson, commander of the 19th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla.

In 2000, the squadron was training about 990 students annually. This year, the number of students will be pushing 4,000. On top of that, instructors have to continue conducting refresher training courses for experienced CV-22 Osprey and MC-130 Talon aviators.

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To keep up with demand, the squadron is shifting to computer-based instruction with an emphasis on interactive gaming, says Anderson. "Going through the PowerPoints or a slide carousel is like going through digital flash cards," Anderson says. The drill becomes more of a memorization technique than learning.

The squadron is moving away from PowerPoint presentations in favor of interactive lessons. For example, student pilots who are familiarizing themselves with a new cockpit can click on virtual switches to learn what functions they perform. Previously, they had to sit in actual aircraft on the flight line running through the same drills with instructors. Now more than half their training is embedded in simulators. The school ultimately wants to make materials available on iPods and iPads, says Anderson.

Freshly winged pilots proceed through five to six months of training with the squadron. Because they have to be ready for combat within weeks of graduating from the class, graduates do not have time to exercise or go into operations "gently," says Anderson.

To underscore the point, he shows a video that was shot during an actual gunship operation overseas. The grainy infrared footage, sanitized for public viewing, shows an aerial view of a field filmed from an AC-130U aircraft flying above six Navy SEALs who were ambushed by four enemy attackers. One SEAL has been shot in the face. The gunship crew is told that they are cleared to fire on the enemy in close proximity to the friendly forces who are struggling to pull their casualties to safety. …

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