KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --
Completing any Air Force course as the distinguished graduate is an achievement on its own, but to do it in a class so competitive that only six enlisted members are selected across the Air Force is even more impressive.
Tech. Sgt. Jonathan Parker, 815th Airlift Squadron instructor loadmaster, returned this week after completing the U.S. Air Force Weapons School Advanced Instructor Course as the first Reserve Citizen Airman to be selected for the school and as the distinguished graduate.
“Parker was an obvious choice because in the 815th, he has been a high performer among the loadmaster corps,” said Lt. Col. Stuart Rubio, 403rd Operations Group commander. “He has shown interest in continuing to improve and take on more of a leadership role within the squadron.”
With this being a new course, the third class to go through, and to be the only board-selected Reservist to attend, Parker said, “I didn’t know what to expect. I thought it was a tactics course and it ended up being a leadership course disguised as a tactics course.”
Parker said that after attending this course, he feels he will be a better instructor and that he learned more about the C-130J Super Hercules and how the aircraft operates in different types of tactical environments.
“This course helps with crew resource management,” he said. “It teaches better ways to operate with the pilots and work together when you are in task saturated or threat environments so you perform better and get the job done more efficiently.”
The focus on training loadmasters is primarily on how to complete their duties and how to perform different types of airdrops. Parker said this course helps explain why a loadmaster would use one method over another for performing those same duties and airdrops based on the different variables that can occur.
Ultimately the loadmasters are responsible for ensuring the aircraft can haul cargo safely. While this may look or seem easy, when they are given the task to make sure they can get “X” amount of cargo to “Y” location and are told ‘here you go, figure it out.’ They do just that -- figure it out and get it done.
This means the loadmasters need to know the weight, size and types of cargo that can be moved based on the aircraft, how to restrain the cargo to prevent movement and how dropping that same cargo out of the aircraft will affect the movement of the aircraft once the cargo is released from the rear of the plane.
“All of the experiences that I received here at the 815th helped me during the course, because we are always performing our duties, we are flying, instructing, teaching new personnel and participating in different exercises.” said Parker. “I have been exposed to a lot of the information though I didn’t know a lot about it. I had either seen it, heard of it, or looked at it. Even though I saw the little bits and pieces, it was only a drop-in-the-bucket to the overall big picture of things.”
The course emphasizes how useful the loadmaster is to the pilots and how much the pilots can help the loadmasters. It is about finding ways to diminish the barrier between the two crew positions and getting everyone working together more efficiently and effectively. Communication being a major facet in diminishing that barrier, especially when working through an issue while in a hostile environment.
“The more knowledge that each crew position has about what is going on in a mission, the better the crew and the more situational awareness occurs,” said Rubio. “This isn’t something just for pilots, or for officers, this knowledge should be passed on to anybody, and is important to develop in our loadmaster corps.”
Parker went on to explain that the course was beneficial because after the academic phase the loadmasters are then integrated into a mission planning cell with the pilots. They are going through the course side-by-side with the pilots, who are attending the Weapons Instructor Course.
“We have to work together with the pilots on projects that involve building mission plans,” said Parker. “It was new for the pilots because they are used to doing it themselves, and it was new for us because we had never been involved in mission planning before.”
He said that it took some transitioning to get the pilots used to realizing that the loadmasters are capable of doing some of the planning and that by enabling the loadmasters to handle some of the planning, it frees up the pilots to manage more critical items required for the flying of the mission.
“It has been a learning lesson for both of us, pilots and loadmasters, but as the class progressed we knew what each other could do,” he said. “We were even planning for contingencies when at the beginning we could barely get an aircraft off the ground.”
According to Rubio, this course is not just learning about the tactics but it is also about enhancing instructor abilities, and being able to communicate new things with the rest of the squadron.
“I see him (Parker) not just teaching the loadmasters, but also being a mentor for young pilots. We have a group of young pilots we hired as the 815th was getting back off the ground, and now two and a half years later, after they completed pilot training, C-130 training, and survival training they are back in the squadron. They are open and ready to learn,” said Rubio. “The knowledge that he has gained and his experience prior to the course could easily be passed on to those young pilots. I see this experience affecting all crew positions in the squadron, not just the loadmasters.
“His earning the distinguished graduate in this competitive course proves that he was exactly the example of Reserve Citizen Airmen that make up our Air Force Reserve Command.”