Learning to fly
KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Special operations squadron Airmen have a different skill set than other aircrew members – whether it’s performing specialized jobs in a forward deployed location or being tasked as part of a rescue operation – to be an Air Force Special Operations Command Airman takes specific training and a different mentality than other Air Force Specialty Codes.
This is where the Green Flight program, used in all AFSOC squadrons like the 1st Special Operations Squadron and 17th SOS here at Kadena, is crucial in helping Airmen new to AFSOC adjust to the operational pace of the job.
Modeled after the Army’s Green Platoon, the program started approximately five years ago and is designed to give Airmen who are new to AFSOC – whether it’s from technical training or from another major command – time to learn their role within an AFSOC squadron before transitioning into full flying status. The program is attended by both enlisted members and officers, comprised of loadmasters, combat system officers, pilots and co-pilots.
Whether an Airman is straight from tech school or from another MAJCOM, Green Flight is a vital step to performing at AFSOC standards –especially for Airmen coming from a schoolhouse environment transitioning to the operational Air Force, explained 1st Lt. James Barrington, 17th SOS combat systems officer.
For the first six months in the squadron, the new AFSOC Airman’s role is to learn their job by studying publications as well as participating in on-the-job training with experienced Airmen in order to become proficient in their role as an aircrew member. Unlike other career fields, there are no career development courses (CDC) for the Airmen to study – it’s all job-based knowledge. Upon completion of the program, the Airmen will then be tasked a secondary duty – such as scheduling or planning of flights within the squadron.
“After Airmen complete Green Flight, they get an updated patch that says Air Commando at the top,” said Master Sgt. Marty Cowan, 17th SOS superintendent.
After learning to be proficient, and becoming qualified aircrew members, the recognition with the ‘Air Commando’ tab is a token of significance to the Airmen, Cowan explained.
During Green Flight training, the Airmen learn AFSOC specific missions and mission sets they might not have learned in-depth during technical school or a previous MAJCOM, such as the high altitude low opening (HALO) free-fall parachuting, forward area refueling point (FARP) and air drop missions. Without the program, new Airmen would be expected to work at a full operational level with inadequate experience, Barrington explained.
For new Airmen, the learning environment with the program instructors makes for a gratifying experience.
“The most rewarding part is being able to work with highly experienced instructors,” Barrington said. “They have seen multiple deployments across their career and it’s helpful to hear their stories and learn from their experiences.”
While the program is getting rave reviews from the new Airmen, training the next wave of Air Commandos may be equally as gratifying for the instructors.
“I remember being a new kid coming through and not knowing anything about Okinawa, and figuring out things for myself,” said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Mills, 17 SOS Green Flight chief of training. “Now I get to teach new Airmen their job and about our mission here in the Pacific – and let them know how awesome of a gig we’ve got.”
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