SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – Sending Airmen from technical training to their first duty station without basic knowledge of each aspect of their job is like sending a maintainer out to the flightline with half the tools they need to fix a jet.
Sheppard AFB has been in the business of producing the best equipped, mission-ready Airmen possible to ensure frontline supervisors and maintenance shops are receiving maintainers ready to contribute to operations for more than 70 years. A new class in the 365th Training Squadron continues that heritage for heavy aircraft maintainers in the mobility air force integrated communication, countermeasure and navigation systems career field by providing instruction on each intricate systems before graduating, something not previously done.
Communication/navigation and electronic warfare Airmen working on heavy aircraft such as C-5s, C-17s, KC-10s and others were independent of one another, even though they had some similarities in regards to use of radio frequencies and the electromagnetic spectrum.
The Air Force merged the two career fields for heavy maintainers about four years ago, forming MAF Integrated Communication, Countermeasure and Navigation Systems specialists. What didn’t happen, however, was a merger of the two technical training programs until recently when the first group of Airmen graduated from the combined “Com Warfare” course – a term used by those in the career field – that introduces com/nav and electronic warfare principles at Sheppard AFB Sept. 14, 2018.
Electronic warfare systems instructor Staff Sgt. Sean Conlan, a com/nav maintainer by trade who last worked on C-17s at Joint Base Charleston, said the career field didn’t see a merger on the flightline when they received new Airmen fresh out of technical training. Instead, they would get new Airmen trained in either com/nav or electronic warfare and train them on the other half of the newly merged career field.
But the implementation of the MAF countermeasures course with follow-on training in com/nav for heavy-aircraft maintainers will have the end result of a more mission-ready Airman going to the flightline upon graduation.
“These last four years, Sergeant Young and I would be on the flightline in Charleston and we were expecting students to come in knowing EW and com/nav processes,” he said. “I would say the merge officially finalized as of this class.”
Young, a nine-year Air Force veteran, said he experienced the on-the-go changeover when he deployed as a com/nav maintainer while the career fields were merging, and returned to find out he was going to be doing electronic warfare, too. He said Career Development Courses had not merged and the two technical training schools were separated at the time, so new Airmen going to bases such as JB Charleston learned upon arrival that there was another part of the career field they had to learn.
For com/nav, he said, that meant learning another three systems for electronic warfare. For the EW Airmen, that meant learning 30 additional systems to meet com/nav requirements. Young said the group at Charleston coordinated as best they could to get Airmen trained on their new requirements, but the operations tempo and manning levels there made it challenging.
The CDCs were combined a few years ago, he said, but the merge hadn’t reached the classroom until now.
“This is the first course where they’re going to show up at their duty section and know that they’re responsible for communication, navigation, mission and electronic warfare systems on that jet,” he said.
Conlan said the new framework of the class also benefits the frontline supervisors. Now they will receive Airmen who have general working knowledge of both com/nav and electronic warfare components.
He said the Airmen received the “meat and potatoes” of their training at Sheppard; now they can focus on the mission and hone their craft. The course will have a positive effect on operational flightlines, he said, and a foundation on which the career field can build.