HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. --
Growing up in Alberta, Canada, one Air Commando never dreamed she would one day be traveling the world and seeing different cultures as part of her job. Dissatisfaction with her career at the time pushed her to seek something more in the U.S. Air Force.
“I was managing apartments and I didn't love what I was doing,” said Staff Sgt. Amber Kaufman, a C-146A Wolfhound transport aircraft loadmaster instructor and evaluator at the Detachment 1, 19th Special Operations Squadron, Duke Field, Florida. “One of my best friends' husband was in the Army and my little brother was in the Marines. After talking to them and doing some research, I knew the Air Force would be perfect for me.”
In 2011, Kaufman enlisted as a loadmaster with the 318th Special Operations Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico, where she worked on the C-145A Skytruck transport aircraft.
The Skytruck is part of the squadron’s non-standard aviation (NSAv) mission with airdrop capabilities. The NSAv mission includes assessing, training, advising and assist foreign aviation forces in airpower employment, sustainment and force integration.
“I joke sometimes and call [the C-145A] ‘my first love’ because it was so different and new from anything I'd ever done before,” she said. “I think what made me love the C-145A so much was all the amazing experiences I had while traveling and deployed, and it's continued on with the C-146A.”
When the C-145A moved locations, Kaufman was given the opportunity to choose a new airframe.
“I knew a few people in the C-146A Wolfhound program and chose to go to the 524th Special Operations Squadron [at Duke Field],” she said. “I miss [the C-145A] sometimes, but I am so glad I made the decision to go to the C-146A. It is by far the best job I've ever had.”
The Wolfhound’s mission is to provide U.S. Special Operations Command with flexible, responsive and operational movement of small teams needed in support of special operations forces.
In 2015, Kaufman’s career path was guided toward becoming a loadmaster instructor.
“I had great leadership and when I was a senior airman [they] sat me down and talked to me about my future,” she said. “I wanted to stay with the NSAv program and [my leadership] expressed a plan for me to become an instructor.”
Kaufman teaches academics and flight training for the C-146A loadmaster position. The students are selected for the C-146A program after completing technical school for special missions aviation at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.
Special missions aviators are trained to conduct multiple integral roles and monitor the functions of an aircraft. These responsibilities include pre-flight inspections, placement and delivery of all cargo on board and providing weapon defense when necessary.
“My job is to ensure standard operating procedures are followed and performed to a certain standard while the students are in training,” she said. “Every flight they are learning and thorough feedback is given on strengths and weaknesses.”
During her class, Kaufman instructs students on passenger and cargo handling, customs paperwork for flying into various countries, casualty evacuation scenarios, aircraft systems knowledge, aircraft servicing, navigational operations and more.
“It's very hands on and I get to demonstrate different techniques to adapt to different student learning styles,” Kaufman said.
Kaufman also evaluates if the students are ready to fly on their own and completing standard operating procedures safely.
“The flight evaluation is basically a show-and-tell of what they've learned,” she said.
For Kaufman, learning constantly is a big appeal in her job.
“There is not one instructor that's learned everything on their own; we all learn from each other, so it's fun to brainstorm together,” she said. “This job is forever changing. When I'm teaching, I'm learning more and more about my job and different ways to do things.”
Not only does Kaufman teach on the ground, she flies missions with her students two to three times a week. These missions are one of her favorite aspects of her job.
“Every day is different,” she said. “I've done everything from casualty evacuation missions to moving thousands of pounds of people and cargo everywhere around the world. I've been able to travel to places I'd never heard of and since every day is different – I’m always learning and it's always a new challenge.”
Maj. James Davis, commander of the 492nd SOTRG Det. 1, believes the fact that Kaufman has been recognized as a top performer at her squadron two years in a row speaks volumes for her contributions and dedication to the SOF mission.
“Staff Sgt. Kaufman is trusted by her peers and was chosen early in her career to teach at the FTU for C-146A loadmaster training,” Davis said. “After 20 years, I can easily say, [she] is one of the most professional Airmen I’ve ever served with.”
According to Davis, only the most professional aviators in AFSOC teach at the formal training unit.
“The C-146A FTU mission can be tiring, given the high student [amount], and Staff Sgt. Kaufman exceeds this challenge without complaint,” he said. “The current training program would not be the same without her day-to-day impacts.”
Kaufman believes the Wolfhound program is an essential part of Special Forces operations.
“Our flexibility allows us to rapidly change in response to the needs of our joint SOF partners,” she said. “The way we fight wars is constantly changing, as is the focus on what the nation is fighting. The C-146A is ideally suited to fulfill the agile combat support role AFSOC plays in getting the right people anytime, anyplace.”