19th SOS keeps AFSOC’s fliers flying

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Lauren Johnson
  • 1st SOW Public Affairs
On the East side of Hurlburt Field is a labyrinth, a maze of a building where intertwining hallways could easily lose an inexperienced visitor. Nestled inside its walls is a self-contained unit responsible for the training of special operations aviators worldwide. 

It is the home of the 19th Special Operations Squadron, which provides training for all aircrew positions: pilots, navigators, fire control officers, sensor operators and gunners, according to Maj. Karl Marusak, 19th SOS electronic warfare evaluator and AC-130 instructor. 

"Pretty much any Air Force Special Operations Command airframe training comes through the 19th in some shape or form," Major Marusak said. This includes students from active duty, Guard, Reserve and civilian sectors. 

Between mission qualification, refresher training, special qualification training and upgrade training for instructor status, the 19th SOS sees approximately 2,600 graduates every year, according to Tom Gasper, squadron registrar. 

The squadron is best known for their aircraft simulator training, where students get hands-on experience for their specific crew position within their specific aircraft. Simulators are designed to provide a realistic training environment that looks and feels like a real airplane. 

Inside, the crew is nestled in a snug cockpit, surrounded by the same switches, controls and displays they see in their aircraft, and looking out at one of the many terrains from around the globe the simulators are programmed to display. 

"The level of training is much better now than it has been in the past," said Lt. Col. Charles Stoner, 19th SOS commander. He credits the advanced technology of the simulators and the experience of the instructors for the vast improvements and for preparing students to perform their real-world mission. 

The simulators allow students to do things they can't do in real-world training scenarios, such as practice emergency procedures. Maintaining currency in emergency procedures and other skills is an on-going process. Each active duty flying unit at Hurlburt is given time in the simulators for proficiency and currency training. 

The 19th SOS can set up simulators and instruction to focus on specific terrains or events at the request of the units. 

The imagery projected in the simulators, which is constantly being updated to make it as realistic as possible, can incorporate other aircraft, such as refuelers, friendly aircraft and various targets. 

Colonel Stoner said it's important for students to be able to see the planes they're going to fly with. 

To make the training even more realistic, the 19th SOS has the capability to link their simulators with others throughout the Department of Defense and with coalition equipment worldwide. 

In addition to aircraft simulators, the squadron also operates the Visual Threat Recognition Avoidance Trainer. 

The VTRAT is a simulator that gives scanners practice recognizing shoulder-fired missiles, Major Marusak explained. 

Sitting in an armchair in front of a screen, students experience incoming missiles from different angles. The system tests their ability to respond quickly and release flares to divert the incoming missiles. 

For the students, training is a full-time job. Major Marusak said initial qualification training generally lasts five to six days a week for six to eight months, depending on weather and aircraft availability. 

On the academic side, students are taught mainly by Lockheed civilian contractors. Each crew position has a full academic syllabus, including classroom instruction and computer aided training. 

Colonel Stoner said one of the best parts of his job is working with new students.
"The new crewmembers come in with such enthusiasm," he said. "Once they're all checked out, it's great to be able to shake their hands and send them home to their squadrons."