From ROTC to the Wild Blue Yonder

  • Published
  • By Cadet First Lt. Emily Zirkelbach

While most West Virginia University students were visiting family, catching up on sleep or enjoying a vacation over the summer break, myself, and a few other cadets from across the country had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to participate in Headquarters’ Air Force Global Strike Command’s professional development training, or PDT for short. This PDT allowed us to visit several AFGSC bases and form a better understanding on how global strike provides strategic deterrence, long-range strike capability and combat support to U.S. Strategic Command and other combatant commands worldwide in support of the National Defense Strategy. Most importantly, it allowed us to gain applicable experience and insight first-hand as we prepare to commission into the United States Air Force. 

On Monday, 10 July, six other Air Force cadets and I arrived at Barksdale Air Force Base in Shreveport, La. for our first stop, where we conducted a static tour of the most combat capable bomber in the U.S. inventory, the B-52 Stratofortress. Here we had the opportunity to sit-down with several pilots and weapons systems officers assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing and discuss the B-52s airpower role in today’s security environment. I still can’t believe this workhorse has been flying for over six decades of operational service, and with a few upcoming modernization efforts it will continue flying until the 2050s. After the static tour, we also witnessed other Airmen in action to include maintainers, logistic readiness personnel and other integral parts that keep the mission and installation going. To conclude our Barksdale visit, we sat down with a panel of Colonels and Generals, who allowed us to ask candid questions and provided valuable mentorship to our group.

After our first stop, on 17 July, we were off to Dyess AFB in Abilene, Tx. where not only did we continue learning about the AFGSC mission but also got gained insight on how airlift supports the entire Department of Defense. Here, we got up close and personal to the supersonic, multi-mission B-1B Lancer bomber assigned to the 9th Bomb Squadron discussing its long-range strike role. Afterward we took an incentive flight in a 317th AW C-130J Hercules experiencing first-hand the tactical portion of the airlift mission. Afterwards, we interacted with installation Security Forces personnel who defend the base 24/7. At the end of the day, we spent time with Explosive Ordinance Disposal Airmen who let us operate the EOD robot and even try on their bomb suits. My personal recommendation, everyone should try to do a push-up at least one-time in the EOD bomb suit.                

Then we were off, after leaving Texas, we found ourselves at Malmstrom AFB, Mont. home of the 341st Missile Wing. Here we conducted a tour of a missile maintenance training facility, as well as the site of the first missile put in the ground for purpose of nuclear deterrence. We also had the opportunity to engage with leaders and discuss the important role the land-based portion of the nuclear triad performs in support of strategic deterrence. Many people don’t realize that AFGSC maintains and operates two-thirds of the nuclear triad, both the land and the air legs, in support of national defense. It was amazing to see all the combat-ready Airmen working behind the scenes to keep our nation safe from our adversaries. Finally, we spent time with the 40th Helicopter Squadron where we received an incentive ride in the UH-1N Iroquois helicopter, commonly known as the Huey. As we flew with the 40 HS, we even assisted in a Security Forces exercise, seeing first-hand how well Air Force Defenders protect one of our nation’s most valuable assets.       

And in a flash, the PDT was over. In the end, this experience allowed me and my fellow cadets to understand the mission of AFGSC more deeply and get a better look into life as an active-duty officer. We found it extremely interesting to learn about the many different jobs that allow one base to function, and how each part plays an invaluable role in completing the overall mission. One of the things that impressed me the most was how enlisted professionals play a vital part in every AFGSC mission. We truly have the world’s best enlisted Airmen. It was eye-opening to see how seamlessly officers and enlisted personnel worked together to tackle the toughest problems.

My outlook on the Air Force will be forever changed because of this experience. I have become even more excited about the future waiting for me after I commission through ROTC, and I look forward to doing my part in the world’s greatest Air Force. To fly, fight and win – airpower anytime, anywhere.