Weapons Officers. Why are we here? To defeat or kill America’s enemies, spread tactical knowledge throughout the Joint Force, and create our own replacement. While the first two are straightforward and openly apparent, the third is often left out. It is important that, while weapons officers are accomplishing the first two tasks, they are also looking for someone to take their place.
Their “Patch Payback” only lasts a couple of years and afterward they will be ripped away to have their views broadened and to focus on the operational and strategic levels of warfare. Every Patch must look at the members of his squadron and identify the individual or individuals, if they exist, who have the ability to take his job. This is no small task, and great care must be taken when making such recommendations to leadership.
I will openly state that some folks have gone through the Weapons Instructor Course for the wrong reason–to use the U.S. Air Force Weapons School graduate patch merely as a stepping stone for advancement and promotion. It’s a despicable thing, not only that the individual was motivated as such, but also that leadership allowed him to even attend and graduate.
Weapons School goes beyond flying and employing all of those various weapons systems in air, on land, in space, and cyberspace. It teaches leadership, instills the ability to perform under pressure, teamwork, and a variety of other intangibles. Contrary to popular belief, Weapons School is not all technical. It tutors young men and women on how to stand in front of their squadron and inspire. The potential or outward ability to inspire others and to lead should be considered ahead of age, time on station, and other factors looked at for admission to Weapons School.
A student has to possess this ability prior to showing up. While the Weapons Instructor Course can teach certain aspects of leadership, it is far more adept at fostering and enhancing the ability to inspire, rather than creating it from scratch. As phenomenal as the education that you receive at Weapons School is, it will never teach “heart.” That cannot be taught. You either have it, or you don’t.
Another task the Weapons Officer must accomplish during his tenure is to not only set, but to also uphold, the standard. As I’ve mentioned before, all eyes are on him at all times. The Patch is looked at as the standard of excellence. That person sets the bar for everyone else in the squadron to reach. The Weapons Officer has a duty to uphold this tradition, and to deserve the credibility he is given through his actions on efforts both on the ground and in the air. He must remember that he has only once chance to be a squadron weapons officer, and if he’s going to do it, it needs to be done correctly. “If you’re going to be a bear, be a grizzly.”
This includes the way he conducts mission planning, how he flies when on the wing of a pilot going through an upgrade, how he conducts a debrief, and how he completes a grade sheet. It’s hard to demand excellence from others if you’re not willing or able to demand it from yourself. As a Patch, you hold yourself to the same standard and exceed it, and you’re harder on yourself than you are any other pilot in the squadron.
That relentless pursuit of excellence should also bleed into the other aspects of your life, too. Look sharp. Don’t be a slob. Go to the gym. Take care of your family. Be the total package, so to speak.
You go to WIC to be a problem solver, not a parrot. You are not there to provide a cookie-cutter, one-size-fits-all answer to every problem that manifests in the tactical environment. During your time as a squadron Weapons Officer, you are going to face operational, tactical, and strategic problems you’ve never seen before. Your patch is a result of your problem solving ability and your critical thinking skills. It’s like the Boyd’s OODA loop on steroids; for a Patch, instead of the standard ‘Observe, Orient, Decide, and Act,’ it becomes an exercise of ‘Observe, Orient, Decide, and EXCEL.’
A final point for the moment is this: as a Weapons Officer, do not move onto your next assignment too quickly. This may make some of my close friends and fellow Patches upset, but I honestly believe sometimes we send folks back to the Weapons School to teach before they’re ready. The commandant has a tough job with staffing at the institution, but by bringing the standouts back to the nest too quickly, you’ve undercut their growth and potential, and certainly truncated their ability to gain the experience needed to validate the lessons learned in the course. A new Patch absolutely must go out and encounter some of those unforeseen challenges, expand their capacity to think outside the container to solve said problems, and ultimately, to validate their solutions.
Weapons Officers are charged with leading and inspiring their squadron and being the tactical expert. The difference you can make in a squadron, group, wing, or even a MAJCOM can often take longer than a year, so bringing them back to Nellis too soon to satisfy a manning shortage at the Weapons School puts them at a disadvantage. A good Weapons Officer should be allowed the opportunity to make his mark on the unit to which he is assigned. It also puts them against the absolute best in the world in their particular platform when they get back to Nellis after only a year as a Patch. It’s not enough time.
The bottom line? Relish each and every day as a squadron patch, and don’t be in too big of a hurry to move on to the next thing!
In the next installment of this series, I will impart some tips and tools that worked for me. Hungry for more? Stay tuned!