Aerospace control and warning systems training Specialists guide ‘good-guy’ planes against enemy
Instructor Michael Bolstad, left, directs Airman Basic Aaron Wimberley through the steps of surveillance operations at an operator console unit workstation in Bryan Hall.
(U.S. Air Force Photo by Kemberly Groue)
by Susan Griggs
81st Training Wing Public Affairs
4/17/2007 - KEESLER AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Col. Deborah Van De Ven, 81st Training Group commander, remembers her excitement 34 years ago upon graduating from basic training and learning about her enlisted career field.
"When they told me I was going into aerospace control and warning systems, I still had no idea what I'd be doing for the next four years," she admitted.
34 years later
Now, when she talks to new students headed for training in the same career field in the 334th Training Squadron, she's reminded of her own experience.
"To help them understand, I go back to a description I was taught so many years ago -- that air traffic controllers keep the airplanes apart and safe from each other and AC&W specialists actually put them together, controlling the good-guy aircraft against the bad-guy aircraft," Colonel Van De Ven explained.
Training starts at Keesler
The 334th TRS provides the foundation for every AC&W specialist in the Air Force in the 1C5 three-level course. Each year, an average of 187 students, from non-prior service Airmen to cross-trainees, attend the 23-day initial course in Bryan Hall.
AC&W technicians manage and operate systems that include functions involving electronic warfare, surveillance, data link management, identification and weapons control. They provide radar control and monitoring of air weapons during both offensive and defensive air operations.
Among their other duties, AC&W specialists interpret and react to radarscope presentations and generated console displays, and compare and report track positions based on flight data or database files.
In addition to gathering, displaying, recording and distributing operational information, they're also responsible for tearing down, loading, unloading and erecting equipment and components.
"When our students leave here, they head for their first assignments," said instructor Pete Martinez. "Later, most go to Luke (Air Force Base, Ariz.) for upgrade training, then back to their units to get more knowledge and experience on the job."
Mr. Martinez, who served as an active-duty AC&W specialist and instructor before becoming a civilian instructor, has seen significant changes in the career field in recent years.
"We've gotten more involved with homeland defense and wartime duties," he observed. "We provide surveillance and identification of any aircraft that comes within U.S. airspace. We also track fighter interceptor aircraft and special mission aircraft from all different services."
Tech. Sgt. Matthew Calvert, instructor supervisor for the seven-member training team, said of the career field mission, "We look deep into the enemy's territory to identify aircraft, and we need to move equipment close to the edge of battle. We deploy into the field, typically in austere conditions, and get those antennas up as high as possible."
Sergeant Calvert said like most technical jobs, AC&W specialists have to be able to follow rules and procedures carefully. Being able to work well under pressure is another important attribute for the job.
"The high ops tempo of this career can be hard on your personal life," he admitted. "The responsibilities are 24/7. But it's a close-knit career field, and your paths will cross with the same people over the years."
As an example, he noted that as a staff sergeant, Mr. Martinez was his instructor; as a master sergeant, he was his supervisor and now they work together.
"One of the great opportunities that come with commanding a training squadron is the opportunity to influence the quality of Airmen we are sending to the war fighting commands -- that goes doubly for the 1C5 course," said Lt. Col. Richard Miller, 334th TRS commander. "Almost all of our graduates will have a direct role in live combat operations during their first term of enlistment. It's imperative that we produce top quality graduates who not only know their jobs, but are professional Airmen as well."
While at Balad Air Base, Iraq, Colonel Miller was able to tour the AC&W facility.
"The training we provide at Keesler is very realistic, and our instructors and military training leaders are motivated and knowledgeable," he remarked. "They understand the importance of getting it right and I think they hit the mark every single day.
"When you are talking to aircraft engaged in live combat operations, you can't afford to get it wrong," Colonel Miller stressed. "We give them the tools to ensure they get it right."