DUKE FIELD, Fla. --
Less than 1% of the American population currently serves in the military. An even smaller percentage can say they are part of a special operations team that integrates into foreign aviation forces to deny potential threats around the globe.
Current Reservists, or active-duty Airmen looking to transition to the Reserve component, who want a new and challenging experience can become a part of this unique community by serving as a combat aviation advisor.
"When we deploy, we deploy as the weapon system itself; which means there are many different AFSCs (Air Force Specialty Codes) that make up our team," said Master Sgt. Gregory Lobman, a combat aviation advisor at the 711th Special Operations Squadron, Duke Field, Florida. "We bring a great deal of capability to the table because of the extensive training and variety of skills our members possess."
The need for these advisors has increased substantially among partner nations over the years and spans across multiple geographic combatant commands.
"Combat aviation advisors have the capacity to conduct a full spectrum of operations in a wide range of environments," Lobman said. "Something else that distinguishes us is the type of training we receive - everything from tactical combat casualty care to culture and foreign language proficiency."
CAAs are required to complete a demanding four-phased training program designed to produce politically astute and culturally aware aviation experts who are also proficient in at least one foreign language. Upon completion of their formal training, CAAs are able to operate autonomously in environments apart from a traditional support base and in concert with other U.S. and Special Operations Forces partners.
"Training together broadens our relationship with our partner nations," said Tech. Sgt. Jeremy Gray, a communications specialist and CAA for the 711th SOS. "Working side by side (with partner nations) builds upon their exciting skills and capabilities and, in turn, makes us better as well."
Part of the qualification course required to become a CAA is intense multicultural training as well as counterinsurgency doctrine and regional skills, Gray said. The process to become a CAA is rigorous, but necessary, as CAAs often take their teams into harsh conditions testing their ability to help foreign partners utilize existing assets in order to complete the mission. In essence, CAAs have to be able to operate seamlessly as an expert in their specialty while also instructing partner nations and executing in a combat situation.
"I'm a propulsion craftsman (in the aircraft maintenance career field)," said Lobman. "Not only do I need to maintain a strong foundation of experience in my career field, but I also have to be proficient in a vast array of other skills that are essential to how you operate and move as a team. It's a tall order and requires a well-rounded person to excel in all of these areas."
The Air Force has two squadrons tasked with the aviation advisory mission. The 6th Special Operations Squadron, which is assigned to the 492nd Special Operations Wing, works in partnership with the Reserve's 711th SOS at Duke Field in accomplishing its shared mission.
The 711th SOS is part of the 919th Special Operations Wing, the Air Force Reserve's only special operations wing.
The demand for the skill set in these squadrons is insatiable, requiring Air Force Special Operations Command to make difficult decisions when determining key allies to support with this unique capability. As a result, the career field is growing to ensure it meets goals within the National Defense Strategy.
While the career field is expanding, not everyone is cut out to be a CAA. To be competitive for the selection process, members must possess a 7 skill level or instructor rating in their career field, be language proficient on the defense language aptitude battery, have excellent scores on physical fitness assessments and possess a propensity to excel in some of the most adverse situations.
"We are looking for members who can help strengthen our relations with our partner nations," Gray said. "Those who excel as CAAs are usually very disciplined with strong leadership skills."
The benefits of being part of such a unique community are widespread and can put Airmen on a new and exciting journey.
"Getting to go and immerse yourself in all kinds of different cultures around the world is pretty amazing in itself," Gray said. "You'll go to places that you would probably never go to with your typical Air Force unit. People go their entire careers and will never see or visit some of the places we get to go to."
Airmen in 16 AFSCs are eligible to apply to become a CAA. Some of the career fields are pilot, intelligence analyst, aircrew flight equipment, security forces, communications specialist, flight surgeon, general medical officer and air liaison officer, among others. For information or to apply to become a CAA, contact the 711th Special Operations Squadron at 850-885-6113 or e-mail email@example.com. #ReserveReady
(Gentile is assigned to the 919th SOW public affairs office.)