By Capt. Katie Baldwin and 1st Lt. Tricia Pasque, 48th Flying Training Squadron
/ Published October 04, 2018
“Coming here is a good reminder of why we do what we do every day,” said Maj. Mary Ortiz, chief of strategic communication for the Air Force Chief of Staff’s Executive Action Group.
She stood outside the Pentagon 9/11 Memorial Chapel, surrounded by 24 members of the 48th Flying Training Squadron from Columbus Air Force Base, as one by one, the T-1A Jayhawk instructor pilots filed through the quiet, somber room, reflecting on the 184 lives lost in the attack, and how that day the military, and the world, changed forever.
It was one moment of many like it during the squadron’s four-day visit to Washington, D.C., a trip focusing on professional development and how the 48th FTS fits into the bigger picture of the Air Force mission. After battling strong crosswinds and low ceilings during their approach, the Alley Cat contingent of seven T-1s containing a mixture of first-assignment instructor pilots (FAIPS), flight commanders, shop chiefs, and squadron leadership arrived at Joint Base Andrews Sept. 24.
“Our primary goal was to provide a better understanding of our role in HAF’s (Headquarters Air Force’s) plan to resolve the pilot crisis as well as the other lines of effort being worked,” said Lt. Col. Jason Richardson, 48th FTS Commander. “Ultimately, connecting a name and a face to ‘big Air Force’ helps us understand that we are all still working toward a common goal.”
To that end, the 48th FTS descended on the Pentagon, where Ortiz let them peek behind the glass doors, giving a tour of the world’s largest low-rise office building that employs a population as large as the town of Columbus. After lunch in the fishbowl, Maj. Gentry Kramer briefed the group on the actions of the Aircrew Crisis Task Force (ACTF). The efforts of his team are wide-reaching, attacking the pilot shortage from three different angles: retention, production, and requirements.
Undergraduate Pilot Training is an integral piece of the production aspect, and the Alley Cats learned how heavily the ACTF depends on them and the rest of Columbus Air Force Base to efficiently and effectively train the Air Force’s next generation of pilots. The 48th FTS IPs also provided feedback on other task force initiatives aimed at pilot retention.
Retired Maj. Gen. Rowayne Schatz, Jr., HAF’s Deputy A3, also addressed the group; his primary desire was to hear from those experiencing the effects of his staff’s ideas and programs. The members of the 48th FTS raised issues ranging from the FAIP assignment process to the perceived pressure to graduate a higher quantity of students at the expense of quality; Schatz reiterated the Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David Goldfein’s intent that IPs continue to hold the line, maintain the standard, and deliver first-rate pilots to the operational Air Force.
Tours of the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, the White House, and the 89th Airlift Wing complemented the Pentagon’s thirty-thousand-foot view and fulfilled Richardson’s second goal for the trip: to connect the IPs to a uniquely Mobility Air Forces mission set that they and their students will support in Air Mobility Command.
Maj. Todd Early, a former Alley Cat now leaving an impact at the White House Military Office (WHMO) as the presidential operations coordinator, guided the group through the Eisenhower Building. The 48th FTS members, dressed to impress in service coats and shiny low quarters, rode the D.C. Metro from their hotel in Alexandria and filed through security early that morning. They spent time roaming the same hallways as the former members of the War Department, State Department, and Department of the Navy – the first of the building’s tenants after completion of its construction in 1888. The structure now houses the White House executive staff, to include the office of the vice president. In one of the many conference rooms in the building, the Alley Cats listened intently as they heard from WHMO leaders Navy Capt. Joe Stavish and Air Force Col. Charles Cooper. They described the upper echelons of military airlift, the highest priority missions tasked with carrying or supporting the President and those in his inner circle.
On their last day in D.C., the 48 FTS squeezed in one last look at another aspect of military life in the National Capital Region as Lt. Col. Joel Gorham led them through an 89th AW mission brief and tours of the C-32, C-37, and C-40. Responsible for the highest rungs of DV airlift, the 89th is AMC’s only selectively manned unit, hiring its pilots from the best the Air Force has to offer. Simply walking the halls and visiting the aircraft that many consider to be the pinnacle of military airlift was enough to draw the 48th FTS IP corps out of the daily grind of UPT.
Capt. Rob Rohmiller, the Alley Cat orchestrator of the trip, was pleased with the results.
“I wanted to cover every detail from start to finish so everyone’s energy and focus could be directed toward professional and leadership development,” he said. “Namely, how can we align ourselves for the most positive impact in the constantly evolving process of pilot production and what can senior leadership do to help mitigate some of our specific challenges? It was fulfilling for me to be able to facilitate a lot of it and see the commander’s vision come to fruition.”
As the Alley Cats stepped to their jets to return home on the last day, they pre-flighted during one of many ramp freezes Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, experiences each week. As they waited for the go-ahead to start engines, Air Force One landed just a few hundred yards away. They watched as the leader of the free world taxied clear of the runway and over to the 89th AW building they had just left, and then took off again in the Marine One helicopter, headed for the White House. In that moment, every sortie, every brief and debrief, every grade sheet and every long day spent studying with a struggling student, found its place in the grandeur that is the Air Force mission.