Student pilots expand horizons

MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- More than 220 individuals from Seymour Johnson AFB, N.C., arrived here Aug. 11 in support of graduating the newest class from the 333rd Formal Training Unit.

In all, 44 instructors, 12 F-15E Strike Eagle student pilots, two student weapons systems officers and dozens of maintenance and support personnel worked together to train how they deploy.

"Everyone is out here training together!" said Lt. Col. Nicole Malachowski, 333rd Fighter Squadron commander. "At Seymour Johnson, the fighter squadron and the 333rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit are not combined, and that's what was so special about coming here."

For the student pilots, the training marked the culmination of their eight-month long training course. In order to pass, they had to prove they were capable of flying three syllabus sorties, which included mission briefs, low-altitude intercept training, and surface attack and air interdiction rides.

"The last eight months have been about how to start the engines, and now it's being able to take off in a tactical environment and employ weapons, so it's a big step for us, knowing nothing about the plane to being able to go to war tomorrow and drop," said 1st Lt. Eric Wells, 333rd FTU F-15E Strike Eagle Student pilot.

Sisler feels MHAFB's newly expanded range complex offered a unique training experience for the students.

"The airspace is phenomenal," he said. "It gives us some pretty unparalleled opportunities to take our students and put them in an environment where they're able to drop real weapons, defend against real threats without having to worry about air traffic control problems or stopping their fights."

The operator's counterparts - the maintainers - were able to benefit from this unique training opportunity as well.

Master Sgt. Jose Verbeck, 333rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit aircraft, power plant and general section chief, said the training allowed him to show his newest Airmen that no matter the base, air field or location, they do the same thing with one specific goal - ensure quality aircraft for air crews.

"The last time I saw cluster bomb units being loaded that we're loading up now, I was in a war time environment," said Verbeck. "So to have these new maintenance personnel load live munitions and watch them come back empty gives them that experience and helps them understand what that weapon does."

Overall, Sisler feels the training has helped all the trainees prepare for future operations.
"I think it gives the students and maintainers a more realistic environment of what they can expect in future assignments," he said.

To Malachowski's delight, the class will graduate today in front of family and friends, and after the successful training here.

The training allowed the instructors and students to reinvigorate the excitement about what Airmen do for a living, she said.

"Whether it's a crew chief, lieutenant or an air flight emergency troop, it kind of reblues us a bit," she continued. "We take this very seriously - it's a deep responsibility and we take a lot of pride. We're really proud of these guys."