Members from the 6th Special Operations Squadron pose with tribal security forces and Chadian air force counterparts in the Shara desert. The 6th SOS assess, trains, advises and assists foreign nation aviation forces worldwide. (Courtesy photographs)
8/11/2006 - HURLBURT FIELD, Fla. -- (This is part two of a four-part series on the 6th Special Operations Squadron)
Becoming a member of the Air Force's only combat aviation squadron isn't as easy as requesting an assignment to the squadron.
With 37 Air Force specialty codes within a 105-person squadron, they cover all four regions of the world.
"Our average age (of Airman) in the squadron is 34 years old," said Sergeant Milioti. "We require mature individuals to handle the missions we're given." Due to the geographically-specific missions of the 6th Special Operations Squadron, members must go through a rigorous, intense training regimen that can take up to a year.
"Everyone's a specialist in what they do," said Master Sgt. Vincent Milioti, NCO in charge of integrated skills training. "We determine how well they operate in a small team and as a leader."
The candidates apply for the unit by sending a career resume showing their past Air Force experience, and then appear before a 6th SOS board. If they pass muster with the board, the four-phase training process begins.
The first phase is initial language training.
The candidates take a language proficiency test, which determines their potential to learn a language. Those test scores determine which language they will learn at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School at Fort Bragg, N.C. Depending on the language, the courses are either four or six months long.
However, there is an exception for native speakers.
"If a candidate is a native speaker of a particular language, they skip to phase two," said Sergeant Milioti.
Phase II, the academic phase, is approximately one and half months long and is where the student attends a variety of courses at the USAF Special Operations School here.
The Dynamics of International Terrorism, Cross-Cultural Communications and Contemporary Insurgent Warfare courses are just a few required courses to familiarize the Airmen with not only the aspects of special operations, but the cultural differences that they might experience in their missions.
Phase III is when the training intensifies.
Known as the integrated skills training section, it's where students learn real teamwork. There are four core disciplines learned: weapons and tactics, communications, medical and mission planning. Phase III is also one and half months long, but far more physically and mentally challenging than the other phases. "It's amazing what these guys will put their bodies through to be part of the unit," said Sergeant Milioti. "And these aren't young kids." The final test of this phase is the Raven Claw exercise, where the candidates learn unconventional warfare.
Deployed to a fictitious country, everything they've learned will be put into practice.
The country they're in starts to deteriorate and they are left alone to recover on their own.
The past month of training will kick in and they will show they have what it takes to survive in any situation. They'll go days without sleep, wear 60 pounds of gear and be pushed mentally and physically.
"It builds team unity and teaches them that without the team, they cannot survive," Sergeant Milioti said. "It's about discipline, plain and simple."
Upon finishing Raven Claw, the Airmen are awarded with the Air Commando tab, proof they've passed the toughest and most stringent part of training at the 6th SOS.
"The Air Force teaches very basic field craft and tactics to its members," said Sergeant Milioti. "We have to take that basic tactical training to another level to prepare advisors to operate throughout the range of military operations - from military operations other than war to major regional conflict."
The month-long phase IV, called the specialty developmental phase, is the final element in 6th SOS training.
Aviators, called combat aviation advisors, learn how to train others on the country's aircraft in which they've been chosen to specialize. For example, Airmen specializing in the Middle East will learn about the Mi-17 helicopter since so many countries in the region use it.
"The combat aviation advisor is the weapons system," Sergeant Milioti said.
"We use whatever is in the country. That's what the training is all about."
All of the training allows the 6th SOS Airmen to operate in a country without additional U.S. support.
"When we embed, we eat their food, know their culture, and speak their language," said Sergeant Milioti. "It's easy to walk out on a tarmac and work with the crews who are the best in the world. We don't have that luxury when we embed."
The 6th SOS follows a simple truth: they send in 15 troops now so the United State doesn't have to send in 15,000 later.
"We execute missions worldwide with less than 100 people," Sergeant Milioti said. "We help allies deter subversion, lawlessness, terrorism, and insurgency in their country."
It's what advisors train for, it's what they live for, and it's what they stand for.