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The big picture: Pilot mentors armament students

An Airman holds a piece of shrapnel from an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, the U.S. senior national representative at the 80th Flying Training Wing's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, shows 362nd Training Squadron armament apprentice students shrapnel from his first drone "kill" during a training mission on June 20, 2005. Simmons met with the Airmen Dec. 11, 2017, and used that shrapnel to illustrate the importance of aircraft armament systems Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

Airman holds a piece of shrapnel from an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Airman Anthony Gallardo Herrera, 362nd Training Squadron aircraft armament systems student and native of Moreno Valley, California, holds a piece of shrapnel Dec. 11, 2017. The pieces of metal came from the F-15C Eagle of Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, now the U.S. senior national representative at the 80th Flying Training Wing's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, during a training mission on June 20, 2005. Simmons used that shrapnel to illustrate the importance of aircraft armament systems Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

A pilot holds a piece of debris from an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile.

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, 80th Flying Training Wing U.S. senior national representative at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, holds a piece of debris Dec. 11, 2017, that came from his first drone "kill" during a June 20, 2005, training mission over White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. Simmons used that shrapnel to illustrate the importance of aircraft armament systems Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

A pilot mentors Airmen.

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, 80th Flying Training Wing U.S. senior national representative at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, shared his stories on Dec. 11, 2017, as an F-15C Eagle pilot and why aircraft armament systems Airmen are integral to the flying mission. Simmons gave ample leadership advice to these 363rdd Training Squadron armament apprentice students to help inform and inspire them to make successful career and life decisions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

A pilot mentors Airmen.

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, U.S. senior national representative at the 80th Flying Training Wing's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, shares his stories Dec. 11, 2017, about being an F-15C Eagle pilot and why aircraft armament systems Airmen are integral to the flying mission. Simmons gave ample leadership advice to these 363rd Training Squadron armament apprentice students to help inform and inspire them to make successful career and life decisions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

A pilot mentors Airmen.

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, U.S. senior national representative at the 80th Flying Training Wing's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, shares his stories on Dec. 11, 2017, about being an F-15C Eagle pilot and why aircraft armament systems Airmen are integral to the flying mission. Simmons gave ample leadership advice to these 363rd Training Squadron armament apprentice students to help inform and inspire them to make successful career and life decisions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kyle E. Gese)

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --

Lt. Col. Matthew Simmons, U.S. senior national representative at the 80th Flying Training Wing's Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, set a small bag in front of a group of Airmen Dec. 11 at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

He opened up the bag in Hangar 1045, exposing relatively small pieces of mangled metal that aside from stenciling were otherwise nondescript. One by one, Simmons took the pieces out of the bag, handing them to Airmen in the 363rd Training Squadron's armament apprentice course for inspection.

The metal fragments were the remains of an advanced medium-range air-to-air missile he fired from an F-15C Eagle on June 20, 2005, during a training mission over the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. He had successfully performed a "kinetic kill" of a fighter drone - his first time to take down a drone - not by his skill alone, but because everyone who has a role in launching a jet did their job, including the armament Airmen on the ground.

"Everything went right that day," Simmons said, holding up and identifying the small nose cone seeker section of the missile as he spoke. "So, a tremendously complex system, that's not going to happen unless you guys do your part and do it right and you do it every day."

Simmons is the second combat aviator to speak to Airmen in such session, intended to expose the young Airmen to the operational side of the Air Force and how their career field fits into the overall mission. The initiative creates a different way for Airmen to learn more about their day-to-day function in the Air Force.

"I wanted them to see, tangibly, the effects of their work because they never will otherwise," Simmons later said. "They will see that a jet comes back clean and they'll have satisfaction that their bombs went and did some good work, but they'll never be able to put their hands on something."

Simmons' goal was making a connection apparent for the Airmen, showing first hand "the physical effect of the work that they're doing."

Instances during Simmons' career in which attention to detail, or lack thereof, could have resulted in mission failure or worse were also shared.

These examples stressed why it takes teamwork from all specialties to make sure the operation comes off without a hitch.

Master Sgt. Jimmy Adkins III, an F-15 armament instructor, said he remembers seeing a variety of people come in to talk to his class when he went through armament technical training at Sheppard in 2001, but he doesn't recall a combat aviator stopping by. For Airmen about to head to their first duty station, having Simmons speak to them provides a different big-picture perspective than the war stories shared by other armament Airmen.

"They don't get this chance every day," Adkins said. "I know whenever they get out there in the operational world, they'll be able to talk to pilots a lot more."

The colonel took some time toward the end of the session to take questions from the Airmen in Training, ranging from commissioning, different duty stations and family and work-life balance. He also stressed that the foundation of earning and keeping trust is by doing their job the right way and excelling.