MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. – Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, isn’t often thought of when the catch phrase “nuclear enterprise” is bantered about.
Intercontinental ballistic missiles, the B-52 Stratofortress and Navy submarines make-up the U.S. nuclear triad, the frontline of the nation’s deterrent from a nuclear exchange.
But the North Texas base is very much in the mix when it comes to ensuring the nuclear enterprise is ready if called upon by providing skilled and experienced instructors to produce highly trained Airmen to maintain those launch vehicles — at least in regards to ICBMs and B-52s. Minot Air Force Base is a perfect example of Sheppard’s role as two field training detachments provide multiple levels of instruction to both missile and aircraft communities.
While Detachment 22 of Sheppard’s 372nd Training Squadron has been providing advanced training for aircraft maintainers, the 373rd TRS’s Detachment 23 is a relative newcomer to the training environment. The detachment provides initial qualification training for three missile maintainer career fields: missile maintenance, facilities maintenance and electronic maintenance teams.
Tech. Sgt. Dustin Stringer, a facilities maintenance team instructor, said after spending several years as an instructor under the legacy platform in missile wings until roughly two years ago, it has been challenging transforming to the Air Education and Training Command methodology of instructing and learning the Sheppard and AETC standards for training and processes. Developing a new curriculum to teach missile maintainers was also a challenge.
But, the end result is much improved.
“I definitely think the quality of training has gone up,” he said. “It does take time to teach all of our technicians the curriculum, but in the end, I think we are putting out a better product.”
Stringer said he completed the basic instructor course at Sheppard in mid-2016. Although he was a seasoned instructor in the missile legacy training program, BIC introduced the training structure used at Sheppard, which incorporates the concept of blocks of instruction building from one to the next.
Even a tool as simple as progress checks to make sure Airmen understand and can accomplish a specific task has provided a better foundation for missile maintainers.
“It’s definitely a huge achievement,” Stringer said. “Maybe not the individual task, but when they come through five months of training and you can see that we’ve molded them into expert technicians, it definitely makes you feel good.”
An added benefit to standing up a new detachment with a new curriculum and training standard is having a sister detachment from Sheppard AFB at Minot. Stringer said they have leaned on the 372nd TRS’s Detachment 22 for things such as setting up programs and interpreting the curriculum. He said he was able to pick their brains on specific items during an instructor supervisor course at Detachment 22.
Master Sgt. Ericson Wolford, Detachment 22 chief, said the two detachments have worked closely on faculty development courses to get Detachment 23 instructors to the point that they can self-qualify. The biggest item, he said, that the mature detachment has helped with is scheduling Airmen for training and understanding the importance of the relationship between the detachment and the host wing.
“In AETC, we schedule a lot of our curriculum – we have a three-month forecast. That was a little bit of an adjustment for them on the fly,” he said. “Also helping them develop that close relationship with the host is something we’ve really been trying to emphasize over there. Having a good relationship with your host unit is, by far, the most valuable thing you can have. I think they’re learning that pretty quickly.”
Just as Detachment 23 is busy training missile maintainers, Detachment 22 is providing advanced instruction for six career fields including: crew chiefs, propulsion, communications and navigation, armament, hydraulics and electro environmental. Each of those Airmen begin their careers at Sheppard in technical training and receive follow-on or advanced theories and trouble shooting.
Wolford said it’s extremely important for Airmen to transition into the field training detachment as quickly as possible, but they are also getting valuable experience at their primary shop through on-the-job training and working with an operational B-52 instead of training devices.
“We are the source for B-52 maintenance training on this base,” he said. “If you’ve got an Airman that’s got to go out there and launch an airplane so they can put warheads on foreheads and something comes up, that young crew chief notices something that needs to be fixed real quick before that mission can get off. His ability to do that is directly linked to the training that we provide here at Detachment 22.”
Wolford said it’s good to have another Sheppard detachment on Minot for the extra support and camaraderie. It’s one way, he said, for the two FTDs to not be forgotten in the nuclear enterprise mission.