(Editor's note: This is the first article in a series about the service-specific training the sister services provide at Fort Leonard Wood.)

Tucked away in a corner of one of Fort Leonard Wood's largest training areas is a set of buildings where Air Force students are trained about all things vehicle operations related.

"What's very unique about the Vehicle Operations Apprentice Course, especially for Airmen who are most likely straight out of high school where the only thing that they have operated most likely is a small sedan, is they come here and get thrown into learning about 44-passenger busses, 28-passenger busses, operating material handling equipment (fork-lifts) and tractor-trailer combinations," said Air Force Tech. Sgt. Patrick Gallagher, instructor for the Vehicle Operations Apprentice Course, Detachment 1, 364th Training Squadron. "Being able to learn all of that in such a short amount of time is pretty impressive. It's a very unique course with how fast we train these Airmen."

The Air Force vehicle operations career field is responsible for transporting Air Force personnel and cargo worldwide to achieve mission objectives during peacetime and wartime operations. The course is designed for 30 academic days and trains approximately 450 students a year.

In addition to operating vehicles, the students learn various skills including material management in distribution, radio communications, loading and lashing cargo, accountable document distribution, special handling assets, wheel assembly removal and replacement and basic convoy operations.

The course was moved from Lackland Air Force Base, San Antonio, Texas, to Fort Leonard Wood in 1997 with the expectation to join with the Army Motor Transport Operator Course. However, with separate mission requirements, the Air Force remained on their own, said Air Force Staff Sgt. Raymond Davis, instructor for the Vehicle Operations Apprentice Course.

"The Army is more combat oriented," Davis said. "Airmen in the Air Force have a mission every day, whether it is a flying mission, aircrew runs moving cargo or participating in exercises."

Gallagher added another reason for keeping the courses separate was the Army trains on military specific vehicles, while the Air Force trains on and uses commercial vehicles.

Still, being at Fort Leonard Wood opened the course for better opportunities to train the students, said Air Force Master Sgt. Wayne Tokarz, course flight chief.

"Most Air Force bases are not as big, so Fort Leonard Wood has a lot more landscape for us to use. It makes our vehicle training more advantageous," he said. "Some of our other bases have maybe 6 miles around the entire base. That's a lot of driving in a circle. Even though we can't merge our training like it was initially intended, being able to work close to the Army gives (the students) a good chance to prepare for a deployed environment."

While it does involve a large portion of the training, the course is not just about becoming a driver.

"A lot of people going into this career field think we are just bus drivers," Gallagher said. "If they leave here knowing the big picture in the Air Force and how we contribute to the mission overall, then I think we have mission success."

Air Force Airman 1st Class Charles Xxavier Bates joined the Air Force not knowing he would end up in vehicle operations, but now that he is close to graduation, said he sees the importance of the career to the service.

"You don't realize how a small job has such a big impact in the Air Force," he said.

Gallagher said he believes he has a responsibility to impress such an impact upon his students.

"When they graduate from here, they will be professional vehicle operators, but I like to say that they will not only be vehicle operators, they are leaders in today's Air Force," he said.