June 21, 2017 (by Susan Garcia) - The U.S. Air Force Weapons School's 34th Weapons Squadron capitalized on planning and collaboration to graduate its first class of students June 17 in the Class 17A HC-130J Combat King II weapons instructor course, laying the foundation to increase HC-130J weapons officers in the Combat Air Forces.
USAF HC-130J from 71 RQS Combat King II assigned to the 34th Weapons Squadron, USAFWS, Nellis AFB, lands on a dry lake bed during a composite mission application exercise at the Nevada Test and Training Range, April 24, 2017. [USAF photo by SrA Joshua Kleinholz]
As reported when the HC-130J WIC was approved in 2015, the course addresses a critical shortage of weapons officers in the fixed-wing platform for personnel recovery.
Currently, the Air Force has just seven HC-130J weapons officers in the field, according to Maj. Nick Pettit, 34th WPS HC-130J assistant director of operations. All seven graduated from the 14th WPS' Air Force Special Operations Command MC-130 WIC, when the 14th WPS had slots they were not filling with students from the special operations community.
The first four weapons officers specifically trained in the HC-130J—Pettit, Maj. Joshua Daleiden, Maj. Maxwell Miller, and Maj. Daniel Ritter—planned and validated the new WIC in 2016 and are the instructors who taught the students of Class 17A.
A complex aspect of planning the new WIC was ensuring availability of the HC-130J aircraft—provided by the 23rd Wing units based at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia, and Davis-Monthan AFB, Arizona. The 34th WPS instructors worked closely with the 23rd Wing to balance the HC-130J WIC requirements with the 23rd Wing's own training objectives and deployment requirements.
"The primary challenge for the 34th is that careful planning has to happen for each sortie," said Daleiden. "Coordinating the aircraft and then aligning that with the available range time is something that can't be done on the spur of the moment when someone would like to reattack a sortie or have more flying opportunities."
When the WIC was validated in 2016, the HC-130Js were not based at Nellis. The instructors had to travel frequently to marry up with the aircraft and maintenance personnel. The time away from Nellis was significantly reduced, however, for Class 17A.
"Class 17A was not scheduled to travel as much since the HC-130J community made more aircraft available for basing at Nellis," said Pettit. "This allowed more integration with the 34th WPS' HH-60G Pave Hawk WIC and other Weapons School squadrons."
The HC-130J instructors credit much of the course's implementation success to teamwork. In developing the course, they drew on the existing syllabi and practices of the 14th WPS and 29th WPS C-130 courses and the 34th WPS' HH-60G course. They then revised where needed to fit the desired learning objectives and tactics, techniques and procedures of combat search and rescue.
During the WIC validation, the outstanding support continued. For example, the 23rd Wing and its maintenance personnel—especially Master Sgts. Christopher Meyer from Davis-Monthan's 923rd AMXS and Jeremy Gilstrap from Moody's 723rd AMXS—helped resolve aircraft and flying hour challenges for the instructors. In addition, the students from the 34th WPS HH-60G and 66th WPS A-10 courses championed the HC-130J's integration into the fight.
"The A-10 and HH-60 students provided leadership opportunities to the HC-130J validation," said Pettit. "They really advocated for us and welcomed us in like one of their own."
Although the HC-130J WIC has room to improve as it matures, the instructors say they are pleased with the progress thus far.
"Overall, we're happy we accomplished what we set out to do, even though some refining will happen as we determine the best way to integrate with the rest of the CAF," said Daleiden.
"We're not where we'd like to be yet, but we're striving to get to that level," added Pettit. "I expect the Class 17A graduates will take what we did and make it better."