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Reservists complete combat aviation advisor training

by Tech. Sgt. Samuel King Jr.
919th Special Operations Wing Public Affairs

6/7/2011 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS) -- Training with their active-duty counterparts, five 919th Special Operations Wing reservists completed the baseline certification course May 27 that will lead to their recognition as combat aviation advisors.

This was the first time Air Force reservists have taken this elite special operations course.

"This is the beginning of several years of intensive flying, ground and language training for the multitude of reserve personnel we expect to enter the CAA program," said Col. Andy Comtois, the 919th SOW commander.

Combat aviation advisors deploy to partner nations and assimilate into their air forces at the lowest squadron or flight level to train personnel to engage in air operations.

"Our CAAs are truly warrior diplomats," said Vincent Milioti, a 371st Special Operations Training Squadron instructor. "They enter the country prepared for anything and ready to operate on political, strategic and tactical levels."

Pilots, loadmasters and an engineer from the 5th Special Operations Squadron began their training in March. They will finish the final phase of training in October.

The first reservists to take on the CAA challenge are Lt. Col. Rodrigo Vial, Maj. Michael Black, Senior Master Sgt. Chris Maradik, Master Sgt. Michael Sims and Tech. Sgt. Randy Hoppock.

The four phases of the CAA training begin with 12 weeks of introductory education and practical training culminating in the four-day exercise known as Raven Claw. This is followed by several months each of foreign language and flight training in various rotary or fixed-wing aircraft that are typical of partner nation air forces.

Only three CAA courses are taught per year, and each Airman is hand-picked to attend, officials said. Potential students must complete a meticulous recruiting process before being accepted into the course and the 6th Special Operations Squadron, the operational CAA squadron.

"I've wanted to be a CAA since I first learned about it in 2006," said Colonel Vial, a 22-year veteran and pilot. "My motivation throughout this course has been getting the opportunity to go downrange (as a CAA) and contribute to the fight."

CAA is yet another way Air Force Special Operations Command officials have incorporated reservists into the commando community through total force integration initiatives. Fifth SOS Airmen have been incorporated into the 19th SOS's U-28 aircraft program and the flight training portion of CAA for three years.

The reservists currently attending the certification course are already certified instructors in the flight training phase of CAA. They fill positions in the 19th Special Operations Squadron, which is the flight training unit for the U-28 aircraft, the MC-130E Talon I, AC-130 Gunships and CAA.

After completing the foreign language phase, the reservists will continue to act as instructors and evaluators with the 19th SOS, but more importantly, they can fill positions within the 6th SOS on a deployable CAA team.

"There are synergies that can be gained by the flexibility we have in the reserve assignment system to potentially assign people to the same squadron for longer periods of time," said Lt. Col. Pat Ryan, the 5th SOS commander.

The newly badged air commandos credited their success to the special operations instructors of the Air Force Special Operations Training Center.

"The Air Force standards prepare you to a certain level, but they take everything you've learned and amplify it," said Sergeant Maradik, a 22-year veteran.

The 41-year-old loadmaster was one of the oldest members of his 19-person team. He said he wanted to show reservists were capable of keeping up and accomplishing the toughest of missions.

For many of the students, the diplomacy and partner-nation interaction was their first time experiencing the political and strategic thinking that each CAA must master and will encounter.

"In many of the training scenarios dealing with partner nations, there (are) no right or wrong answers," Colonel Vial said. "It's left to us to make the 'best' choice. As CAAs, we'll be in political and diplomatic situations and environments that will be beyond our scope."

Colonel Vial said he believes the CAA charge is one of the most important missions right now, and Airmen leave the course as "3-D" warriors -- proficient in development, defense and diplomacy.

"This is essential in our long-term operations against global terror networks because the CAA program prepares Airmen to help bring those partner-nation air forces up to a greater level," Colonel Ryan said. "That ability provides our partner nations to plug into this global coalition to help fight and win."

The next CAA course begins in July with four more reservists starting the training.

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