SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
“The rising tide raises all ships.” This is the quote which Staff Sgt. Aaron Williams, 365th Training Squadron mobility Air Force integrated communication, countermeasure and navigation systems apprentice course student (com/nav), lives by.
On June 7, 2019, Williams became the first student to receive the ACE award for the combined com/nav and electronic warfare course after receiving a 100% on all 23 of the block tests and performance checks.
Com/nav consists of six fundamental courses; 12 blocks of com/nav avionics and five blocks of electronic warfare.
Williams first received the ACE award for the fundamental courses and then started thinking bigger.
“I was so happy when I aced the fundamentals course, the pressure was finally off,” Williams said. “When we moved on to com/nav, I thought it was going to be a daunting task. I was still going to do my best, but I assumed I couldn’t reach that level.”
Williams said the fundamentals courses was the only time he set out for the ACE award, but once he got a 100% in the first two tests of com/nav … then four … then eight. That was when Williams decided the impossible task might be able to be conquered.
“First it was two, then four and each test there was just that little extra pressure each time,” Williams said. “I would say there is a bit of a competitive edge, but I wasn’t doing it to rub it in anyone’s face. I didn’t do it for the ACE award I just wanted to be as good as I could be.”
That pressure Williams talked about came from his recent transition from the Army to the Air Force after seven years as a soldier. He wanted to be sure to take full advantage of his second shot in this career field.
Williams was originally part of a signal corps, which closed down. He was moved to a different shop where he could not put his 25U MOS to full use and felt his skills were not being used to the best of his capabilities. During his time in a counter drug unit in Billings, Montana, he was afforded the opportunity to transition to the Air Force and put his passion to use.
“When I was attached to my new unit, I wasn’t MOS qualified,” he said. “I was afforded the opportunity by my commander to transfer over to the Air Force at that point and was able to get on with com/nav avionics which work with basically the same systems.”
Although this sounded like a great opportunity, Williams was hesitant to make the switch because he said he had the heart of a soldier.
“The Army definitely built me into who I am now,” Williams said. “I really cared about being a soldier. Everyone is an infantryman first. Going through such difficult scenarios and environments, I really loved the comradery that was built.”
The discipline and experiences the Army engrained in Williams was not lost when he transferred over. Now with the 120th Airlift Wing in Great Falls Air National Guard Base, Montana, he still strives to be a great noncommissioned officer. Williams said we all represent the armed forces and raising the tide in one branch will raise all the ships no matter what uniform you wear.
This mindset translated well during his technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
“When I would leave the class and come back I would find [Williams] quizzing the other students or running through the lessons,” Staff Sgt. Zachary Brown, 365 TRS electronic warfare apprentice course instructor said. “He would go home and do everything we ask for and more and come the next day with questions. He pushed me to be a better instructor and his dedication wasn’t just for himself.”
Williams strived to help other Airmen with hopes that it would make life easier for the instructors and that his wingmen would continue to pass the help along. As well as being a Staff Sgt. himself he wanted to be an NCO they could relate to. He would encourage his fellow students to read ahead the night before as a little as 45 minutes would greatly benefit everyone.
Williams’ dedication extended from reading ahead and studying the night before with a fellow prior-service student to pushing himself to ace the course.
“He took time from his own personal life to push himself above and he wanted to embody the core value of ‘service before self’ both in and out of the schoolhouse,” Brown said. “He had the determination to want to be great at what he was doing and learn the systems before he actually puts his hands on them.”
Although Williams began his career as a soldier, he had no issues incorporating the Air Force core values with his own.
“The main thing I focus on, and these are clichés that I try to push, is incremental improvement is exponential growth,” Williams said. “You’re not going to magically wake up great one day, better yourself a little every day and in a year you’ll see growth, then in three years, then in five.”
Williams graduated the com/nav course on June 7, 2019 and is currently going through on the job training at his new duty station. He said he hopes to perform well at his new shop so he could have the same comradery with his wingmen as he had with his soldiers when he was in the Army.