AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar – Deployed U.S. Air Force Airmen often miss opportunities afforded to those back home. But personnel specialists at the U.S. Air Forces Central Command headquarters here ensured deployed enlisted Airmen did not miss one opportunity – to pursue their ambitions of becoming part of the first group of enlisted pilots since World War II..
In August, Air Force senior leaders widened eligibility for enlisted Airmen interested in the RQ-4 Global Hawk remote piloted aircraft program by opening the application process to Airmen from all Air Force Specialty Codes.
The submission process used a phased-application approach, giving interested Airmen a six-week window to complete the initial phase. Interested applicants were required to complete the computer-based Air Force Enlisted Pilot Qualifying Test and the Test of Basic Aviation Skills at the nearest testing center and submit their results to the Air Force Personnel Center.
For the nearly 17,000 Airmen deployed in the AFCENT area of responsibility, the nearest testing center was over a thousand miles away, a distance that could take them away from their jobs for an extended period of time.
“Because deployed bases don’t have the equipment to provide the tests, we needed to work quickly to figure out a way to support our Airmen who were interested in pursuing this opportunity without taxing our personnel and our mission,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Richardson, AFCENT Manpower and Personnel deputy director. “Our Airmen do amazing things and support many missions across the Middle East, so we wanted to make sure they still had a chance to pursue their goals while getting them back to the fight as soon as possible.”
To overcome these unique challenges, the AFCENT team coordinated closely with Headquarters Air Force, Air Combat Command, U.S. Air Forces Europe and AFPC to determine how to ensure every interested Airman was afforded the opportunity to apply for the program.
“Our primary goal was protecting and securing the opportunity for every deployed Airman,” said Richardson. “We don’t want a single Airman to look back and wonder what could have happened if they weren’t deployed in service of their country. Through the efforts of numerous individuals from a number organizations, we were able to find a way to support our Airmen.”
Ultimately, the group arranged a two week deadline extension for Airmen deployed during the span between the program announcement and original testing due date.
The AFCENT team used Al Udeid AB as a central testing site by using a recently-purchased TBAS machine and also trained its Airmen to properly administer the tests to ensure adequate time for each applicant.
Richardson said the collective efforts of personnel across the globe afforded 82 Airmen, who otherwise may have been unable to participate, a chance to pursue their dream.
“Taking care of people is mission critical,” he said. “It was rewarding to watch groups of Airmen all over the world come together in a common interest to take care of their fellow Airmen. I think it shows what Air Force culture is about.”
Of the 82 tested in the AFCENT testing center, 36 Airmen were selected to move on to the second phase of the application process, which included medical flight physicals at Ramstein Air Force Base, Germany.
The results of the inaugural Air Force Enlisted RPA Pilot Selection Board, which meets Feb. 6 - 9, is expected to be released in late February 2017, but Richardson said no matter the results, his team feels proud to have helped their fellow Airmen.
“We don’t measure our success on how many Airmen ultimately get their wings,” he said. “If there was even one Airman who got the opportunity to pursue their dream, we did our job.”