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Keesler instructor named combat control NCO of the Year

KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. --

“Whenever I look at my accomplishments I will always think it’s miniscule next to the guys who are in [the career field] all the time while all I did was go on a deployment and came back to being an instructor,” said Tech. Sgt. James Sparks, 352nd Battlefield Airmen Training Squadron Detachment 1 BA instructor. “If I didn’t have that deployment I don’t think I would have been competitive in the least, but I think the additional taskers I have here is what helped me and set me apart.”

When Sparks joined the Air Force 11 years ago he never thought he’d win the Air Force Combat Controller NCO of the Year award . . . especially while working under Air Education and Training Command.

“Coming from a training command we kind of get lost as far as what everybody else is doing outside of us,” said Sparks. “We get stuck in our little bubble so it was very surprising to actually win it.”

Compared to what CCTs do under other commands, Sparks describes the job he does in AETC as ‘extremely different’.

“When you’re used to back to back deployments, constant temporary duty assignments, being gone two to three weeks every month, being busy and always having something new on the horizon that you’re going after, becoming an instructor is an extremely different change of pace,” said Sparks. “Everything slowed down greatly.”

Sparks has been an instructor for three and a half years for the CCT and Special Operations Weather Team Human Performance Optimization Course, which is 70 training days long and entails high levels of physical training.

“We physically train the students from 6-8 a.m. and release them to class at 8:45 a.m.,” said Sparks. “We do running, rucking, swimming, weight lifting, calisthenics training and team style events. We’ll also take them to the beach and run a certain amount of miles.”

As well as being an instructor, Sparks was the acting first sergeant for the detachment, which takes a load off of the commander, superintendent and instructor supervisors. He helped many students with finances, housing, family issues as well as taking adverse action when necessary.

 During his deployment he was the senior enlisted manager for all CCTs in Iraq where he was working administrative issues. He was also the special operations liaison for the major combined joint operations center.

Sparks might not think what he does is that impactful, however, his commander notices the hard work he puts in day in and day out.

“This year he exceeded and beat out a bunch of other CCTs for this award because he’s filling two very important positions,” said Capt. Jesse Sullivan, 352nd BATS Det. 1 commander. “He volunteered for a six-month deployment and he’s training students. Whatever he puts his mind to, as a CCT, first sergeant and an instructor, he ends up trying to be the best at it. He takes any task and exceeds the standards with it.”