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Student pilot takes unique look inside munitions maintenance officer course

  • Published
  • By Michelle Martin
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Second Lt. Jackson Eaves has been waiting to start pilot training for a long time due to circumstances out of his control.

But a chance meeting while on a photo assignment for the 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs Office led to a unique training prospect, a first for Sheppard AFB, and one that could lead to further opportunities for other student pilots waiting for training to start.

The Embry-Riddle University product arrived at Sheppard AFB in February 2022 to earn his pilot wings at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, the world’s only internationally manned and operated flying training course. While waiting for his class to start, the Baltimore native stumbled onto an unconventional opportunity when he was able to participate in a logistics officer course here while in casual status, the term used for undergraduate pilot training students waiting for their class to begin. It was one that provided a baseline understanding of the conventional munitions maintenance officer career field.

“It was one of the best experiences I’ve had in the Air Force so far,” Eaves said after completing the course on Aug. 26, 2022.

Eaves said he met Capt. Bryan Szucs, chief of training at the 363rd Training Squadron Air Force Logistics Officer School here and shared the story of why a person wearing a flight suit was taking photos of a distinguished visitor. The conversation resulted in Szucs offering Eaves the chance to sit in on the Conventional Munitions Maintenance Officer Course. The 23-year-old lieutenant said he jumped at the chance to learn more about a function of the Air Force he had no knowledge of.

Eaves said before attending the CMOC course, he had very little formal technical knowledge of any jobs in the Air Force, let alone munitions.

Szucs said the month-long training consists of eight-hour days filled with lecture, hands-on application of munitions processes, storage procedures, safety and personnel management.  

“As a pilot or operator, if you will, Lieutenant Eaves will be familiar with using weapons systems, but is not taught how that comes to fruition – how does that happen from the time he shows up to the aircraft, the munitions he requires are just magically there,” Szucs said. “This course gives him a better understanding and appreciation of the work and people it takes to make all of that magic happen by the time he arrives to his aircraft.”

Student pilots touch on munitions briefly in T-6A Texan II training and again towards the end of T-38C Talon training — the introductory and advanced training in the program, respectively — where they start developing more of a munition’s foundation. If they are chosen for a fighter jet track, they will get further into details when they attend the introduction to fighter fundamentals course, which encompasses employment of missiles and weapons systems in air-to-air and air-to-ground combat.

The students are assigned duties within the 80th FTW while on casual status, giving them opportunities to learn and be exposed to different aspects of the day-to-day inner workings and operations of a flying wing. They are also encouraged to schedule temporary duty travel to other installations for familiarization flights and unit visits. 

If all the slots at the 80th FTW are filled, there are oftentimes requests from other Sheppard offices for casuals to go where help is needed, which sometimes can be perceived as busy work by the students in wait.

According to Lt. Col. Matthew Roberson, student section commander of the 80th Operations Support Squadron, there are 350 students training at any given time at ENJJPT.  

“Class loadings, how many students are training at a time and from which countries, have to be unanimously agreed upon by all the partner nations,” he said. “It’s a big, collaborative effort to decide which students get a seat; however, if there are any changes to be made, all countries have to approve.” 

Roberson said being that Sheppard is home turf for the USAF, the Air Force has more flexibility to give when those changes are required. He said currently the USAF students are pushing almost 100 casuals, which is not typical. 

With force development at the forefront of the Air Force’s desire to produce world-class, always-ready Airman and Air Force leaders, all the while maintaining a competitive edge, students who find themselves in limbo while waiting to train can seem quite the contrary. Keeping this in mind, leadership here sees the benefits of giving student pilots the opportunity to grow and understand the Air Force around them. 

The 82nd TRW and 80th FTW have quite possibly stumbled upon a way in keeping with a competition-focused force which looks beyond the lines of Air Force Specialty Codes and elevates the mission across the force, through command relationships and connections amongst peers.

Szucs said Eaves is getting the opportunity to do something early in his career that typically doesn’t happen until much later, and that’s the opportunity to learn what other officer’s jobs consist of, as well as forging relationships that will someday benefit him in the operational Air Force. 

“Critical and creative thinking and how to apply those concepts will carry over for him into some of his other training,” he said. “He’s also gotten to be with a class he hangs out with – a peer group of officers working toward a common goal, just like in pilot training. And, as a bonus, new friendships were forged that may not have happened before.”

Szucs added that these young officers may meet later at their duty stations, or even on deployments. He said it was also a unique opportunity that may not have presented itself in any other way and that he could see how this could be something new and exciting the 82nd TRW and 80th FTW could partner with.

Roberson echoed this sentiment when he stated how important it was to make sure the program is valuing service members’ time while they are waiting to finally take a seat not only in the classrooms of ENJJPT, but in the cockpits of the aircraft they’ve waited to finally fly.

“This has been such a neat thing to watch with Lieutenant Eaves and how we can work together to enhance our service members’ lives,” he said. “We plan on sending casuals to these courses as they become available.”

Roberson said the opportunity Eaves has in the AFLOS course is valuable. He said first and foremost, the mission of the 80th FTW is to train combat pilots for NATO. That said, not only do they want to train the best pilots in the world, but they also want to make sure they are training leaders for the Air Force.

“We don’t just want to teach them to fly airplanes; we want to teach them to be leaders the Air Force needs,” he said. “To learn something outside their specific career field helps them be better leaders and also helps us focus on creating people of character in accordance with the Air Force Core Values. If we just create a pilot, we’ve done our mission, but we’re missing out on the leadership aspect and just the humanity and value of these people.”

Both Roberson and Szucs have said they look forward to working together to see how the 82nd TRW and 80th FTW can further benefit each other in helping elevate both missions while continuing to align with the Air Force’s priorities.

Meanwhile, Eaves, who isn’t slated to begin pilot training until February 2023, said he has now gained new friends within his ranks, and an appreciation for what the munitions and maintenance Airmen do every day to support flight operations. He hopes for both wings to look for these same opportunities for his peers.

“I really want to thank the maintenance community at Sheppard for taking me under their wing and accepting me as one of their own in their career field,” he said. “I gained a wealth of knowledge from the munitions and maintenance side of the Air Force and have incredible new perspectives. Everyone was so welcoming and wanted to see me succeed.”