Flight school leaders revise, improve training
August 14, 2009
FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- In an effort to improve officer and Aviator training efficiency, the Army is revising its existing career development model.
Before newly commissioned lieutenants arrive here for flight school training, they attend the Basic Officer Leader Course, or BOLC II, conducted at Fort Benning, Ga., or Fort Sill, Okla. Warrant officers must successfully complete Warrant Officer Candidate School.
Following their respective courses, students merge here for training to become rotary wing pilots.
The three phases of flight school begin with Junior Officer Professional Development (JOPD), Helicopter Overwater Survival Training (HOST), BOLC IIIA and Survival, Evasion, Resistance, Escape (SERE).
Phase two teaches Initial Entry Rotary Wing (IERW) and Basic Warfighter Skills (BWS). The final phase features instruction on advanced aircraft.
Maj. Ryan Miedema, D Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment commander, will make several modifications to the installation's flight school program.
He noted BOLC II will soon be eliminated, shaving six weeks off a lieutenant's training prior to arriving here. BOLC IIIB, which teaches detailed mission and flight planning and is typically conducted at the end of flight school, finished for the last time, Aug. 5. Leaders plan to combine its subject matter with BOLC IIIA in the first phase of flight school. The new course will be called BOLC B, according to Miedema.
Miedema said he's rewriting the program to accommodate curriculum taught in BOLC II, IIIA and IIIB including weapon ranges, aviation unit structures, combatives training, convoys, flight planning and more.
JOPD platoon trainer Chief Warrant Officer James Zepp said the initial step of flight training may also merge with BOLC B later this year.
BOLC B will begin in October and will last four weeks for warrant officers and five weeks for lieutenants, Miedema said. Present courses will be conducted as usual until then, except for BOLC IIIB.
Maj. Thad Weist, B Company, 1st Battalion, 145th Aviation Regiment commander, said BOLC IIIB will be waived for students who have already completed BOLC IIIA. He said students who don't participate in the current or new BOLC training here will be brought up to speed at their future units.
Students' spouses will also see changes. Miedema said the final flight school military ball was conducted last week but husbands and wives will still be recognized through a graduation brunch.
Aside from these modifications, the essentials of flight school will not differ.
Miedema said student and family awareness and preparedness can ensure a successful cruise through flight school. Knowing the courses students will encounter is the initial step.
The first class here is the weeklong JOPD course, which Zepp said will remain a separate entity until BOLC B begins. For now, he said JOPD includes Uniform Code of Military Justice classes, an Army Physical Fitness Test and officer professional development classes.
JOPD student Warrant Officer Jason Sargent, said the training reiterates what he learned in warrant officer classes prior to flight school and will make him a better officer.
This classroom learning is only the beginning of a students' long journey to flight school success.
HOST, otherwise known as "dunker," comes after JOPD, and teaches students aquatic helicopter crash evacuation procedures. Wearing full flight attire, students climb aboard the Helicopter Underwater Egress Trainer, or HUET - which represents aircraft students may later fly - and are flipped under water in a large pool. Their challenge is to calmly and successfully swim out and away from the machine.
HOST instructor Derek Joyner said the training builds students' personal confidence. Warrant Officer Kyle Wagley agreed as he participated in the class Aug. 6. He said HOST made him feel more comfortable in the water and around aircraft.
Following the next stage - currently BOLC IIIA, soon the new BOLC B - students participate in SERE. SERE commander Maj. Christopher Clyde said each 21-day cycle is different, so students do not know what they will experience and should come with an open mind.
"They can't really prepare for it because they don't know what expect. Their best ally is to come with the proper mental attitude," Clyde said. "This course can be physically and mentally demanding, and that can be applied to their Army careers."
Clyde said families should know the Soldier will not have any contact with them during SERE. He said students should put personal affairs in order for the three weeks they are gone.
"It's a humbling experience," said 2nd Lt. Sarah Brakefield, who recently completed the course. "It's opened my eyes to different things that could happen. I feel much more prepared to handle those situations."
SERE marks the end of phase one. Miedema said there are holds, or "bubbles," between the many stages of flight school training and lengths vary. Miedema said students should memorize aircraft limitations and emergency procedures - known as "five and nines" - before beginning the next phase, IERW.
Capt. Holly Burke, student administrative officer, encourages students to keep their eye on the prize when training becomes difficult. "Keep focused," she said. "The goal is to graduate and earn those Aviator wings."
Students who succeed in following leaders' advice will see their hard work pay off. Once they complete phase one, however, the journey through flight school is not over.
Students will face the next challenge of learning how to fly the TH-67 Creek helicopter in IERW before moving on to their advanced aircraft.