Now that we have defined what exactly the Patch is, we must now determine how the Weapons Office fits into a squadron. Simply put, you work for the commander (CC) and Director of Operations (DO). These individuals have earned the honor of command and as a result, deserve and demand your allegiance. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the relationship between you and your leadership will be outstanding. For that one percent, I will give you my opinion and recommendation to make that situation as good as possible.

As a Patch, you take your direction from the squadron commander and DO…Period. The only time you would do otherwise is if you consider an order unlawful, at which time it would be your duty to highlight the improper situation to your superior and then allow that person an opportunity to reconsider. If such a situation is not present, you take the squadron on the track the commander or DO directs you to.

There have been situations in the past in which individuals entrusted with command have demonstrated no desire to know tactics or learn them. Rather than embrace their Weapons Officer’s guidance, they attempt to remedy their shortcomings by snubbing their Patch and leading their squadrons in non-tactical directions. These guys spend half of a fifty-five-minute brief on Motherhood and then criticize their Patch for not focusing enough on the basics of airmanship.

If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m not.

Major Michael "Double" Blauser, an instructor pilot at the USAF Weapons School, climbs into a Block 40 F-16CG in preparation for a syllabus ride.
“Double,” a former instructor pilot at the USAF Weapons School, climbs into a Block 40 F-16CG in preparation for a syllabus ride.

The reason these individuals have such distaste for the Weapons Officer is most likely due to one of two factors: envy of the talent and knowledge the Patch has attained at a much faster pace, or the second–and more likely–the commander or DO saw a weapons officer in the past deal with a lacking leader in a way that undercut the boss, thereby ruining that leader’s credibility. Honestly, what self-respecting commander would want to put himself in a similar situation? This scenario has caused obstacles for many a Patch working for commanders such as this.

While a truly unfortunate situation, the Patch must do his best to influence the squadron and preserve tactical excellence as best he can within the constraints the leadership lays upon him. When behind closed doors, not within visual range of fellow squadron members, the Patch should then highlight his tactical opinion to the leadership. When those doors are reopened, the Patch must then walk out lockstep with the leadership and support their chosen direction.

The Patch must consider the following: will the benefits of working within the deck of cards he is dealt and neither alienating nor dividing the squadron outweigh him taking a stand in an idealistic fashion and diving on his sword? It’s important to remember that you, as a Weapons Officer, are there for the benefit of the squadron as a whole. When put in these terms, the best option is the first–doing the best you can in pragmatic fashion, rather than being idealistic and cynical.

Patch Check: Words of Advice for New Weapons Officers

Read Next: Patch Check: Words of Advice for New Weapons Officers

"Fangs" prepares to launch his F-22A Raptor for a training mission at the USAF Weapons School.
“Fangs,” a former IP with the 433 WPS, prepares to launch his F-22A Raptor for a training mission at the USAF Weapons School.

Remember, you don’t need to buck the system in order to make things better. In most cases, following that vector will make things exponentially worse. As a Weapons Officer, it is important to possess great passion, but still be a good officer and servant-leader in your squadron. You are a Weapons OFFICER. In no way are you a Yes-man, and when it is appropriate, you must be willing and able to quantify the pros and cons of a situation, along with your recommendations in a coherent, well thought-out fashion.

If you find yourself in a situation where the only option is to dive onto your own sword, consider the following:

  1. Make sure it’s a worthy cause
  2. Make sure someone is listening
  3. Make sure you can live with whatever consequences come about

In most squadrons, the relationship between the leadership and Weapons Officer will be much better than the one outlined above. As a patch, the DO and squadron commander will lean on you and rely on your expertise when it comes to training plans, upgrades, and tactics. Your opinion as a Patch will be given special consideration and you will become a powerful force for good within the squadron. Because of this bond, a friendship will most likely form. You will learn and be mentored by your leadership so that one day you’ll be ready to assume the role of squadron DO or CC–and perform to the expectations laid out by your wing leadership.

Lieutenant Colonel Johnny "Vegas" Vargas, former ommander of the 77th Fighter Squadron, starts his F-16CJ Fighting Falcon in preparation for a training mission.
Lieutenant Colonel Johnny “Vegas” Vargas, former ommander of the 77th Fighter Squadron and a USAF Weapons School graduate, starts his F-16CJ Fighting Falcon in preparation for a training mission.

Do not, under any circumstances, take advantage of this relationship with your DO and squadron commander. When you are off the clock and not at the squadron, you can definitely be friends. But when you are back at the squadron, you are still a Patch, and those individuals are still your bosses. Stand up when they walk into the room. Address them as “Sir” or “Ma’am,” and never, EVER abuse your friendship by asking for favors the boss wouldn’t extend to anyone else in the squadron.

As a Weapons Officer, such an atmosphere breeds contempt and will ultimately sully the perception of who and what a good Patch should be. Know your role, and fulfill it to the best of your ability. Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.

Remember?

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In the next installment, “Vegas” digs into the charge of a weapons officer. Stay tuned!