LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Arkansas –
As the C-130J Super Hercules creeps to a halt, the aft loading door slowly opens filling the plane with rays of the bright midday sunlight. The young Airmen are motioned forward and walk hastily in a single-file line toward their new journey.
They are students on their way to their next iteration of training to become operationally capable members of the Air Force.
The 314th Airlift Wing, who is responsible for training the next generation of combat minded C-130 aviators, has recently supported Air Education and Training Command’s student pipeline by transporting Airmen in training from one location to the next in order to mitigate their potential exposure to COVID-19.
“AETC is responsible for taking this nation's sons and daughters from a basic military trainee to a fully capable member of the United States Air Force,” said Lt. Col. Aaron Webb, 314th Operations Group deputy commander. “Our young people need to attend training to do that, so AETC is working to provide that training while lowering the risk of transmission by using the 314th AW instead of commercial carriers because it gives them more control over who and what the new Airmen come in contact with.”
To date, the 314th AW has flown eight missions in support of AETC’s student training pipeline — transporting approximately 400 of the United States’ newest Airmen.
“A strong Air Force makes our nation stronger,” Webb said. “Our greatest resource is our Airmen. If we can ensure they have the training they need to use the equipment we entrust to them, they then have the potential to blow us all away with their capability.”
In addition to preserving the health of the force by minimizing potential contact with COVID-19, these flights are also seen as a dual-purposed opportunity: they afford new Airmen early exposure to operational capabilities as well as maximize aircrew training hours by piloting essential transportation missions.
“This mission is good for both our unit and the Airmen we fly for multiple reasons,” said Maj. Joseph Hunt, 34th Combat Training Squadron weapons officer and aircraft commander for the most recent student transport mission. “The young Airmen get exposure to the unique airlift capability of our Air Force, and the pilots and mission planners are practicing capabilities that are rarely exercised in the training environment.”
Webb explained how operating in a pandemic will continue to present challenges for the Air Force’s readiness, but said that the Airmen from the 314th AW will be there to deliver airlift capabilities whenever they are called upon.
“Personally, I'm grateful to help and I know my team is as well, but, on a broader level, I think it's part of a promise we make to those who serve with us,” Webb said. “If you join our ranks, we will work to make you a part of our team. This means holding you to the high standard our nation expects. I think, just like you would any teammate, we try and protect each other. Whether we're flying together or fighting a virus together, we have your back.”