14 WPS teaches future leaders

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Michelle Vickers
  • 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs
Tucked away and partially hidden by the cover of trees, the 14th Weapons Squadron is an inconspicuous member of the Hurlburt Field community.

Nevertheless, this small geographically-separated unit of the U.S. Air Force Weapons School is hard at work making an impact through its graduates within the Air Force and the Air Force Special Operations Command.

The 14th WPS is the largest of three squadrons in the Weapons School that provide advanced training for special operations force operators. Like its parent headquarters at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., the training at the 14th WPS allows students to grow from past lessons learned and avoid repeating them in the future.

"This schoolhouse is about training weapons officers that are leaders of their fellow SOF operators," said Lt. Col. Marcel Benoit, commander of the 14th WPS. "It's not about creating new technologies, but more about finding creative ways to use the current and near-horizon technology better. The basic idea is to create innovative, critical-thinking problem solvers."

The squadron accepts students who are instructor-qualified officer aircrew members on U-28, AC-130 and MC-130 aircraft. Twice a year a new class tackles almost six months worth of challenging curriculum on their respective air frames.

Students go from a baseline course at Nellis AFB that opens their eyes to the variety of platforms the Air Force has available, then return to the 14th WPS and master the capabilities of their aircraft. Roughly halfway through the course, students begin planning scenarios that require integrating multiple platforms to achieve mission accomplishment. Finally, the students return to Nellis for a graduation exercise known as "Mission Employment", where students are put to the test.

"The course is laid out: crawl, walk, [then] run," said Capt. Matthew Prochazka, an MC-130H instructor navigator for the 14th WPS.

Exceeding 450 hours of academics and more than 20 flights per aircraft specialty, the students are not the only ones putting in long hours. Both the officer and enlisted cadre play important roles within the squadron. While officers are the primary instructors for the courses, the enlisted cadre serves as opposing forces to create a realistic enemy presentation in many of the training exercises.

"The students will be here on the weekends, they'll be here at night," Prochazka said. "It's long days for the students, but it's even longer days for instructors because we're the guys doing all the coordination."

In addition to teaching technical and tactical lessons, instructors impart valuable skills to create better critical thinkers. One of the chief goals of 14th WPS instructors is developing student's leadership abilities.

"This is a very rigorous training program," Prochazka said. "This is probably one of the most challenging courses to go through. It's a leadership course disguised as a tactical training course. Imagine the leadership challenges while you're trying to fly around with 70 other aircraft, trying to figure out where everyone is going," Prochazka said. "That's the big challenge."

The leadership developed throughout the course can then be translated into successful mission execution in a complex battle space.

"The graduates of the program are very capable of leading a group of planners to develop solutions for tactical problems, then executing the plan and debriefing from the execution of the mission," Benoit said. "It takes a significant amount of practice to do this well, and the process is not always painless, but well worth the results."

Integration is also fundamental in creating a well-rounded weapons officer and is one of the central tenets of the 14th WPS's course syllabi.

"You might be a tactical expert in your plane and what you do, but to be able to step back and now look at how all these different players interact and integrate is really the focus of this school," Prochazka said.

The 14th WPS produces well-trained experts who return to their respective units after graduation to raise the collective skill set of the community.

"The 14th WPS takes raw talent in the form of technical expertise, challenges it with difficult missions, forms it through Air Combat Command's disciplined problem-solving methodology, then tempers that talent with the flexibility and creativity required of SOF missions," Benoit said. "The overall intent is to create superb tactical problem solvers and leaders, which at the unit level, help prevent us from relearning the lessons of history by building, teaching and leading the next generation of combat experts."