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ME Phase challenges future weapons officers

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.-- A C-130 Hercules assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School taxis across the Nellis Flightline during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

A C-130 Hercules assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School taxis across the Nellis Air Force Base flightline during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the weapons school graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman/Released)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.-- A two-ship of F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School taxi out to the Nellis flightline during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers.(U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Worley)

A two-ship of F-16 Fighting Falcons assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School taxi out to the Nellis Air Force Base flightline during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Worley/Released)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.-- A F-15 Strike Eagle assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School returns from the Nevada Test and Training Range during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Worley)

An F-15 Strike Eagle assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School returns from the Nevada Test and Training Range during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Taylor Worley/Released)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev.--
A C-130 Hercules assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School for the Nevada Test and Training Range during the Mission Employment phase, June 8, 2011. More than 5,000 personnel are involved in the final phase of the Weapons School graduate course, resulting in 89 students from 21 separate combat specialties graduating as U.S. Air Force Weapons Officers.(U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman)

A C-130 Hercules assigned the U.S. Air Force Weapons School for the Nevada Test and Training Range during the Mission Employment phase June 8, 2011. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Brett Clashman/Released)

NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- The U.S. Air Force Weapons School completed its nine-day graduation exercise here June 9.

The Mission Employment or ME Phase is the capstone exercise for Weapons School Class 11A, and involved more than 90 aircraft, 33 units, and 3,300 personnel from all U.S. military branches.

The exercise simulated the full range of Air Force air, space and cyberspace operations, from participation in a limited conflict to full-scale war with a near-peer. Its goal was to practice integrating every U.S. Air Force capability into joint operations in the most complete and realistic way possible.

ME Phase was orchestrated by the approximately 93 weapons school students set to graduate from the course, and executed with more than 30,000 hours of effort from personnel around the globe. The exercise tested the knowledge students earned in nearly six months' worth of study and gave invaluable experience to participating units.

Maj. Suzanne Nadal, the school's chief of academics, described the challenges posed by the cutting-edge threats simulated in the exercise.

"We continually adjust and improve our training to reflect the capability - not the intentions - of potential adversaries," Major Nadal explained. "We certainly try to make sure that if a new capability is out there our students will get exposure to it as soon as possible."

During ME Phase, that exposure included a vast array of simulated threats: hostile aircraft, cyber attacks, electronic warfare, insurgent operatives, surface-to-air missiles, and even intelligence gathering. Every day of the exercise focused on one type of mission scenario, each building upon the last, and provided experience with the same planning and operations cycle used in actual combat operations.

Chief Master Sgt. Randy Bromell, 757th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron superintendent, said ME Phase would have been impossible without the exhaustive efforts of aircraft maintainers. More than 500 aircraft sorties were launched both day and night supporting the exercise in just eight flying days.

"This exercise required a full court press from the maintenance side," Chief Bromell said. "Everyone definitely put their best foot forward in order to make this happen."

Most activity occurred in the air over the Nevada Test and Training Range, which provides a 2.9-million-acre and 15,000-square-mile battlefield. Col. Robert Garland, USAFWS commandant, said this range is the only place in the world where such a huge scope of training is possible.

"We are deeply grateful to be here in the northern part of Las Vegas and southern Nevada, to have the most incredible simulated battlefield available anywhere in the world," Colonel Garland said. "This type of training occurs here at Nellis Air Force Base because it can only occur here, on the Nevada Test and Training Range.

"No other facility has the instrumentation, battlespace, simulated threats or pristine electronic environment to be able to do training like this," he added. "It is key to what makes the weapons school what I believe to be the Air Force's premier 'air center of excellence.'"

Major Nadal also said that while ME Phase is part of each weapons school class, the challenge it offers is continually evolving with current world events.

"We're always looking for the meanest, baddest threat out there to improve our training," Major Nadal said. "Once we see an adversary capability appear anywhere in the world, we begin evaluating it to determine how to deal with it and to bring it into our curriculum."

Capt. John Christianson, joint force integration chief, said ME Phase validates future weapons school graduates' ability to be weapons officers. He explained why obtaining the weapons school graduate patch is a difficult and competitive process.

"Weapons officers start out as experienced instructors in their own platform," Captain Christianson said. "The application process to come here can take up to several years, and students have to compete with hundreds of their peers just to make it to the school.

"In the five-and-a-half months of this course, weapons officers become experts not only in their own weapon system, but also all other Air Force systems, and have to know the best way to employ them effectively with all other capabilities in the U.S. military," he continued.

Captain Christianson explained that students will go back to operational squadrons, called tier one assignments, to become primary advisors to their unit commanders and to train the units' instructors. Following that, experienced weapons officers will be dispersed to assignments across the Department of Defense, in tier two positions, to serve as advisors to military leaders in how best to use not just Air Force, but all DOD assets.

Maj. David Stamps, weapons school director of staff, said graduation from the course is also an entry into a "professional fraternity." Weapons school graduates, along with their counterparts from other services, form the military's core of expertise, experienced in working and planning together.

"Any weapons school graduate can be called on to answer for the DOD and to provide the leadership with advice and counsel," Major Stamps said. "They are a network of knowledge. They reach out to one another for advice and to solve problems together no matter where they are in the world."

Colonel Garland said the ultimate objective of ME Phase is to validate that the Air Force can fulfill its promise to the American public that it will be ready for any threat to the nation's security.

"Weapons school takes the very best officers from the combat air forces and puts them through the toughest and most complete training we can possibly offer," Colonel Garland said. "They gain the ability to support any decision maker, at any level, anywhere in the DOD, from a lieutenant colonel on up to the President of the United States. This is a leadership course disguised as a tactics course.

"ME Phase proves that officer can do what we're training them to do," he continued.

"We do this training so that when our country's decision makers see that weapons officer wearing that weapons school graduate patch, they can know that person is among the finest - if not the finest - expert in warfare, anywhere on the globe, and that they can be trusted to help them answer any military challenge America faces.

"I believe - to the bottom of my heart - that weapons school is central to why America's Air Force is second to none."

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