OG commander glad to be back where it all began

  • Published
  • By Col. Axel Pohlmann
  • 80th Operations Group commander
As a young man, I made a choice to join the German Air Force in October 1973. I completed officer, language, and initial flight screening in Germany.

There was a waiting list at that time for pilots to come to the United States to begin pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base. When the time came for me, I was not aware of the future experiences I would find.

It was an honor for me to be a part of the U.S. and German Undergraduate Pilot Training program. Starting in July 1978, I began training in the T-37. This initial UPT phase did not differ much from the training of today.

The majority of the student pilots were U.S. and German, although we did have some Iranian student pilots participating in the program. During this time, the tornado of 1979 hit Wichita Falls and destroyed my home and all of my belongings. I barely escaped with my life but was immediately impressed with the way the local community helped us, turning a terrible tragedy into fond memories.

As time passed, the hardships of that time grew distant in my thoughts while the kindness of the people was something I always remembered with gratitude. The experiences of this basic training in the T-37 and T-38 remained imbedded in my mind, and I often rely on those student lessons when I fly today.

This not only applies to flying training but also to officership, as the leaders here at that time made a very positive impact on molding me to become the officer that I am today.
While serving as Commander A7, German Air Force Command, I was notified that I would soon be returning to Wichita Falls and Sheppard Air Force Base as the commander of the 80th Operations Group for the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program. I was thrilled to know I would return to where I began my career as military aviator, renewing old friendships while making new ones with members of the 80th Flying Training Wing, 82nd Training Wing and caring residents of this area.

A lot had changed since I received my pilot wings. The nations participating in the program had grown to 13 with representatives chartered to produce combat pilots for the NATO Alliance.

This return to ENJJPT would bring me to a totally different perspective. Instead of taking instruction from established pilots, I would be giving instruction and leading a diverse group of officers, enlisted, civilian and contract professionals. I would take charge of four squadrons of an integrated staff consisting of 673 personnel employing 203 T-37, T-38A and T-38C aircraft.

The cooperative efforts of these individuals would be crucial to accomplishing our mission of flying over 70,000 hours and 60,000 sorties annually, resulting in the production of 256 student pilots, 110 instructor pilots and 145 introduction to fighter fundamentals trainees each year.

Staggering numbers like these could make a person reel, but I was eager to return to my roots in the flying world and the transition has been great. That initial training introduced me to the aviation world and strong leadership.

As I advanced through the ranks and flew the Starfighter and Tornado in assignments in Germany, the United States and elsewhere in NATO, I recalled lessons I'd learned here and had used throughout my career.

I found that other German officers who trained here felt the same way ... the experience at Sheppard not only enriched their lives but influenced their future military careers in a very positive way.

Besides undergraduate pilot training at Sheppard, German military members train at other U.S. sites to this day. German officers and enlisted personnel receive great training at the German Flying Training Center at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., Navigator Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., the Basic German Flying Training Squadron at Goodyear, Ariz., and the Missile Training Center at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. This training enhances career development and benefits the entire German Air Force.

Here at ENJJPT, we recently went through the program's first-ever aircraft conversion from the T-38A to the T-38C, and our training division has developed new syllabi incorporating advanced technology and the newest flying training skills and methods for improved training supporting a new ENJJPT 2008 concept. Before long, we will have a new aircraft, the T-6A Texan II, to use for initial flight training. It will eventually replace the workhorse T-37 and a new era will begin.

Through each transition and phase of this program, our people continue to be the backbone of every success. We have a group of professionals who work together as a cohesive team alongside our wonderful neighbors in the local community. The support we receive enables us to do our jobs more effectively and do all we can to meet U.S. and NATO goals.

Although I will remain in the German Air Force after leaving ENJJPT, I expect this to be my last flying assignment. It has been a great career, and I will be happy to be able to close this chapter in the place where it began.

As a big thanks to all the great people here, we will enjoy ENJJPT's Silver Anniversary in a glorious manner and look forward to greater accomplishments in the future - always being sure to keep safety first and, as we say in the pilot world, continuing to "Check 6."