ENJJPT molds international guardians of freedom

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Madeleine E. Jinks
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – First Lt. Russell Driggers had just finished his fourth or fifth night of combat operations as an F-15C Eagle pilot in 1999 as part of Operation Allied Force, a NATO-led effort to end the ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians in Serbia.

He was watching a CNN report before he reported to work the next morning, he said, when images of an elderly Kosovar Albanian woman fleeing persecution were shown. He said it was the first time he felt the importance of the work he was doing.

“That was a face I could put to the mission,” he said.

Twenty years later, Driggers, now a colonel, commands the 80th Flying Training Wing, home to the premier flying training wing charged with producing NATO pilots for 14 partners of the alliance – the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. ENJJPT is the world’s only internationally manned and managed pilot training program dedicated to building relationships and training fighter pilots.

Since 1981, ENJJPT has played a significant role in NATO-wide pilot production. Comprised of 14 signatory nations, 13 of which are currently participating, it is one of four undergraduate pilot training programs in the Air Force. Driggers said 75% of future Air Force fighter pilots train through ENJJPT. For Denmark, Belgium, Norway, Germany and the Netherlands, ENJJPT is the sole source of training for fighter pilots.

“Those nations are strategically placed to provide deterrence against potential Russian challenges,” the colonel said. “It is an absolute criticality for those nations that we are able to produce quality aviators with the necessary skills and attitude to be an effective fighter pilot.”

The student pilots begin the 55-week course by learning basic aerodynamics, functions of the aircraft and how the engine works. They learn about the life support systems that keep them safe before advancing to simulators, academics and aircraft training in the T-6A Texan and later the T-38C Talon.  

Lt. Col. Jurgen Schumann, German air force senior national representative for ENJJPT, said while tactical training is necessary, the diversity within training is what really makes a difference.  

“This is the best training because each instructor pilot brings their own experience from their nation,” he said. “They put it into the training systems and it gives everyone a fuller bag of tricks.”

Schumann also spoke about the common ground ENJJPT provides as pilots progress in their careers.

“Wherever you meet someone later on, if they went through ENJJPT, it’s an immediate common ground,” he said. “You can recall what you did and what you went through, even if it wasn’t at the same time. There’s already a relationship and a friendship there.”

Driggers also drove home the point that intangible skills learned during training is what’s most valuable.

“This is one of the few times that young officers are immersed in a multi-national environment so early in their career,” he said. “The relationships they form here can last throughout an entire career.

“The ability to operate in an environment where you must understand different cultures, get along and solve problems with people who see things differently is a skill that our pilots can carry with them.”

Although international pilot training at Sheppard was not a foreign concept before ENJJPT, it was in the late 1970s when NATO began searching for a location to establish an undergraduate pilot training program for its partner nations. NATO leadership and partners ultimately decided North Texas was the best location for the operation for several reasons including almost year-round flying weather and community support.

The program officially began training in October 1981 and continues today.

To graduate from ENJJPT and earn those silver wings is a prestigious achievement, which comes with the responsibility to be a Guardian of Freedom, the theme of the Sheppard AFB 2019 Open House & Air Show Oct. 26-27.

“It’s a moving role that comes with honor and dignity,” Driggers said. “When I saw the phrase ‘Guardians of Freedom,’ I immediately thought of the Airman’s Creed. We talk about being a sword and shield, a sentry and avenger. The graduates we have absolutely fall into those categories.”