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Special Operations Forces Seek Best, Brightest Pilots

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) — Wanted: Individuals able to think on their feet, adapt quickly when needed, have a love for flying, and want to get in the fight now.

That was the message to members of the 80th Flying Training Wing’s Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program March 6 here from Maj. Gen. Kurt A. Cichowski, the Air Force Special Operations Command vice commander.

“We’re growing,” the general said of the command and the need for special operators. “We need the top people to fly. We want the young, the best hands (and) the best pilots to come to AFSOC.”

General Cichowski said the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program was known as the undergraduate pilot training program to go to if someone wanted to fly fighters. Now it has morphed to a program that means combat aircraft, ranging from fighters to bombers to unmanned aircraft systems to special operations platforms.

Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training isn’t the only organization going through changes, the general said. An increased operations tempo for AFSOC missions in expeditionary operations is also changing the way the Air Force gets in the fight and engages the enemy.

“Special operations is completely changing the way we are looking at warfare,” General Cichowski said. “We are taking on an enemy that is no longer wanting to meet the United States Air Force force-on-force, big-on-big.”

To adapt, Air Force officials are looking at how to fight the enemy in their backyard within the guidelines of the conduct of war, he said. It’s going to take a nontraditional approach that requires nonstandard aircraft and sharp Airmen.

“We’re doubling in size in the next five years,” he said. “In order to get the quality people that we have to have to do our mission, we are out there, quite frankly, recruiting.”

To illustrate how AFSOC is more involved in operations now, General Cichowski shared a story about a first lieutenant currently flying special operations missions. The general said it occurred during the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz’s visit to Sheppard Air Force Base a couple of weeks ago.

“On that visit, we had an individual who had been with us for a year-and-a-half,” he said. “He had 1,000 hours in the airplane, which is unheard of for most regular planes. Normal is 300 to 500 in a two-year tour. Of those 1,000 hours, 800 were combat. That first lieutenant had five Air Medals. That is unheard of for a first lieutenant.”

Capt. Joe Bozarth IV, a recent graduate of Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training and now training in the PC-12, an aircraft used by AFSOC, said his assignment as a special operations pilot is providing an immediate track to get into the fight and support people on the ground. He can fly combat missions six to eight months after graduation from Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training. His colleagues, who were assigned fighters, will be in training for at least another year before they see action.

Regardless of what airframe the students are assigned coming out of Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training, Captain Bozarth said each pilot should remember one thing: It’s all about the Air Force.

“I think that you just have to realize that it’s the needs of the Air Force that matters,” he said.

Col. Daniel Torweihe, the 80th Flying Training Wing vice commander, said the wing is in lock step with the cultural change of the Air Force. He said demand is changing on the traditional fighter pilot and moving toward the need for AFSOC and unmanned aircraft system operators.

The colonel said this transformation wasn’t met with open arms by Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training students. But, he added, it wasn’t because they were placing themselves before service.

“The trouble is, people didn’t have the facts,” he said. “But now that we have guys who can come in (such as General Cichowski) who’ve been there and have done that and can tell factual information, you’re going to find students who really understand.”

The general said he’s not lauding one airframe or mission over the other because they are all needed to fight in today’s environment. He said he’s merely encouraging pilots to place AFSOC aircraft as a priority selection on their dream sheet.


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