5th Flying Training Squadron dedicated to duty

  • Published
  • By Lt Col Jon Ellis
  • 5th Flying Training Squadron
Most people, when asked about the Air Force Reserves, think about the "weekend warrior" who participates one weekend a month and two weeks during the year.
In this time of increased operations tempo, reservists are filling an ever-increasing role in national defense.
You hear about them every day; reservists are serving in every facet and function of the Air Force mission. Many members of the Enid community are currently serving at home and abroad as security forces, maintenance, front line combat troops and pilot training instructors. Wait a minute ... pilot training instructors?
Throughout the Department of Defense, in what is known as the Reserve Associate program, full- and part-time reserve members are standing shoulder to shoulder with their active-duty counterparts to meet expanding mission requirements while simultaneously streamlining the active duty force. In April 1997, the 5th Flying Training Squadron was activated at Vance Air Force Base, and now more than 78 reserve instructor pilots support many aspects of the mission of the 71st Flying Training Wing.
The majority of what the members of the 5th FTS do is directly related to the daily training mission and the bread and butter of the Vance mission: flying student sorties. In 2003, part-time reserve IPs worked a total of 7,200 days, flying more than 9,500 student sorties.
In addition to their flying duties, reservists serve in a myriad of crucial roles, including flight examiner, safety officer, scheduler, director of training, assistant director of operations, friend, neighbor and mentor. Of all of these roles, perhaps the most important is mentor.
The 5th FTS provides a highly experienced cadre of officers and instructors who have experiences and a unique insight that can only be gained through many years of life experience. The squadron members come from various backgrounds and previous flying assignments. Some of the IPs have been stationed at Vance for more than 10 years, some have flown three aircraft at Vance; there are former Marines, ex-Navy pilots, several airline pilots and even one seminary student. They bring a depth and breadth of experience that greatly enhances the mission, that would not otherwise be available.
The life of a commuting reservist is harried, to say the least. The program requires at least one week a month be spent here. While nearly half of the squadron members live in or around Enid, many live in Oklahoma City, some live in the Dallas area, and a few commute in from all around the country. Being a member of this unit means time away from home and their full-time jobs. This requires sacrifice and strong support from family members. So why do they do this? Why would someone give up so much of their otherwise free time to travel to Enid and spend weeks at a time flying with students?
Some do it because they miss the camaraderie of being a military pilot. Some do it because here they get to go upside down and fly formation. But above all, they do it because they enjoy teaching. Any member of the squadron could fly other airplanes, whether it be F-16s, C-17s or
B-52s. They choose to fly T-37s, T-38s and T-1s because they enjoy the training mission. Having a chance to impart their knowledge and share their experiences with junior officers and aviators gives them a feeling of satisfaction that is unlike any other job. To them, there are few experiences more rewarding than watching a young officer become a young aviator. Often the single most rewarding experience in all of aviation is sending a student out solo for the first time -- they came to work this morning as a pedestrian, they go home tonight as a pilot. While it may go too far to refer to this as a "calling," it's no exaggeration to say that they do this because they love it.
"Quality time with my family is the hardest thing to juggle and our families are patient and understanding about our flying commitments," said Maj Pary Patel, full-time Southwest Airlines pilot who lives in Chicago and flies the T-1 at Vance. "We couldn't do this without their support and our employer's flexibility. But I enjoy being an instructor and really find satisfaction in flying with students."
While the majority of the squadron members live outside Enid and commute here to serve, several members of the unit choose to make Enid their home. Many have built strong and permanent ties to the Enid community. Some of them actually grew up in central Oklahoma or have family from here. They are deeply involved in the community and serve locally though their work on projects such the airport advisory council, Christmas in April and church membership. They own local businesses and send their kids to school here.
"The members of my squadron do an outstanding job of serving their country, and I appreciate the great personal sacrifices they make," said Lt Col Robert Williamson, 5th FTS commander. "I am proud of the work they do, the way they have become a part of the fabric of the mission here, and the excellent relationship they have fostered with their active duty counterparts. They are all integral members of Team Vance."