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The honor of the red beret

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Todd Wivell
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Editors note: Some combat control instructors and all trainees are identified by their rank and first name only. This article closes out the past 13 weeks of a 13-week series.

To some of us 13 weeks seems like a short amount of time, to others it can seem like an eternity. To the 16 remaining trainees of Class 09-003 attending combat control training at the Pope Combat Control School it probably seemed like it would never end.

After 13 weeks of intense training these men successfully graduated Thursday from one of the toughest courses in the Air Force and have ultimately gained the honor of wearing the coveted red beret. 

"These men did well. They met all the objectives and challenges we set for them," said Senior Master Sgt. Sean Gleffe, CCS Commandant. "The captain (who started the class as a first lieutenant) used his non commissioned officers and the non commissioned officers were on the Airmen. I had absolutely no reservations in presenting these young men with their hard earned berets." 

What started with an intense physical training evaluation session of 21 men on day one lead to 13 weeks of hard-core classroom and field training exercises, that included everything from rappelling, throwing live grenades, airfield management, landing zone practical's, night time navigation, live weapons firing, obstacle course navigation and mission planning just to name a few. 

"They came here as any other class, anxious and apprehensive about what to expect," said Sergeant Gleffe. "That means they were disjointed in many ways about the expectations and how hard they would have to perform to meet and exceed the standards. Gradually they learned from their mistakes and capitalized on those same mistakes to get to the final day of training." 

"Every class that comes through here exceeds the standards in all areas. If they didn't, then they wouldn't be here," said Master Sergeant Charles McHarney, CCS Operations Superintendent. "Physically, this class did well. They especially excelled with regards to their run times. They also did very well during the assault zones block of training. Their performance during landing zone establishment day was well above average." 

Landing zone establishment day is held between weeks 12 and 13 of the training and is a culmination of everything the students have learned during a two week classroom training. 

"All of the trainees came to together as a team, remained motivated and safely landed a C-130 on a dirt runway in the middle of the night," said Sergeant Gleffe. "They used all the tools and methods the cadre had taught them and overall that is pretty cool to experience." 

One final test the trainees had to accomplish was the final field training exercise, an event in which everything they have learned over the past 13 weeks is put to the true test.
"The trainees are expected to take everything they have been taught and apply it practically and without fail in a field environment with minimal rest," said Sergeant McHarney. "It is their final test to ensure they are ready and worthy to don the red beret."
As much as the class went through and successfully completed they also experienced the departure of five of their teammates, some to medical disqualifications and others who had inabilities to complete the course and were academically removed, a hard thing for any team to experience. 

"This class took some heavy hits losing teammates that had been there from day one almost a year ago," said Sergeant Gleffe. "In spite of that, their mission had to continue and they learned to press on." 

After 13 weeks of intense combat controller training the 16 trainees walked across the stage and received their red berets, a symbol of the true combat controller. 

"With each class, I am impressed by the young Airmen," said Sergeant McHarney. "They are fun to watch because of the transition they make from start to finish. It is very rewarding as an instructor to watch a young, motivated Airman turn into a finely-tuned and well-rounded combat controller." 

As these 16 men completed this phase of their training and career, they will go on to prepare for another year of advanced parachuting, combat diver qualification and their five-skill level trainings. 

"From there it is endless on what these men will do," said Sergeant Gleffe. "From hot spots involved in the Global War on Terrorism to humanitarian operations across the globe, these men have no idea what situation they will be supporting next. They do however know they will be supporting it as highly skilled and trained combat controllers."