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CSO unit stands up at NAS Pensacola

By Michael Briggs | 12th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs | Oct. 3, 2009

NAVAL AIR STATION PENSACOLA, Fla. — The Air Force began the next evolution of combat systems officer training when it activated the 479th Flying Training Group Oct. 2 here.

Col. Jacqueline Van Ovost, commander of the 12th Flying Training Wing at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, unfurled the unit flag and handed command to Col. Travis Willis during a ceremony in the National Museum of Naval Aviation.

The unit will begin training students in May 2010 when the Air Force consolidates its navigator, electronic warfare officer and weapons system officer training into a single CSO pipeline. By combining five course syllabi into one, the Air Force will develop a more qualified CSO while being able to better place graduates in assignments that maximize their capabilities, Colonel Van Ovost said.

A CSO is the officer responsible for aircraft mission and weapon system operations. CSOs fly in airframes such as the F-15, B-1, B-52 and RC-135.

Currently, the largest portion of CSO training takes place at Randolph AFB, where the CSO course and its predecessor, Joint Specialized Undergraduate Navigator Training, have been conducted since 1993. Weapons system officer training for aviators slated for follow-on assignments to F-15E and B-1B operations was already being conducted at NAS Pensacola.

The standup of a consolidated CSO schoolhouse here is the result of Base Realignment and Closure legislation that became law in September 2005.

The ceremony marked the return to active service of the 479th FTG, which had been inactive since July 2007 when its undergraduate pilot and introduction to fighter fundamentals training ended at Moody AFB, Ga., also as a result of BRAC 2005. The group stood up its three subordinate squadrons at the Oct. 2 ceremony: 479th Operations Support Squadron and 451st and 455th Flying Training Squadrons.

"This is an exciting day for our Air Force and the 12th Flying Training Wing as we activate the storied 479th Flying Training Group and put it back in the fight," said Col. Jacqueline Van Ovost, whose wing is the parent unit of the 479th FTG.

Construction of the unit's operations and academic facilities on the NAS Pensacola flight line will be complete by year's end, and the 479th FTG will begin its CSO curriculum in May 2010. When fully operational, the school will graduate about 360 officers per year.

The two units currently conducting CSO training at Randolph AFB, the 562nd and 563rd Flying Training Squadrons, will cease operations in October 2010.

In addressing the members of his new command, Colonel Willis said the CSO mission at NAS Pensacola is critical to maintaining the security of the nation.

"Your task is simple: Prepare the next generation of warriors, and educate and train them to be better than you," he told the Airmen in formation. "They must perform in current combat 7,000 miles away and, more importantly, be able to meet and defeat the threat yet to be revealed."

The Air Force and Navy had previously conducted the CSO mission jointly, and Colonel Van Ovost said the two services could one day again team up to do that at NAS Pensacola.

"The partnership between Randolph and Pensacola in conducting and supporting this mission is important to the direction Air Force Chief of Staff General Norton Schwartz has given to the Airmen in his charge," she said. "That is to do 'whatever is necessary to help the joint team win today's fight.' That begins with a training relationship and culminates with joint execution of the fight.

"Despite our different uniforms, the Navy and the Air Force are united in their defense of the United States, and training missions like the CSO curriculum here in the 479th will sustain our joint combat edge for years to come."