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The big picture: Pilot mentors armament students

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

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.  

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