Teaching tomorrow's warfighter

Staff Sgt. Joseph, a sensor operator instructor with the 49th Operations Support Squadron looks over a sensor operator student during a flight on Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Sensor operator students go through three to four months of Initial Qualification Training, where they go through phases of instruction to prepare for the operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

Staff Sgt. Joseph, a sensor operator instructor with the 49th Operations Support Squadron looks over a sensor operator student during a flight on Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Sensor operator students go through three to four months of Initial Qualification Training, where they go through phases of instruction to prepare for the operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

A student pilot and sensor operator fly on a training mission Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Sensor operator students go through three to four months of Initial Qualification Training, where they go through phases of instruction that directly prepare them for the operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

A student pilot and sensor operator fly on a training mission Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Sensor operator students go through three to four months of Initial Qualification Training, where they go through phases of instruction that directly prepare them for the operational environment. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

Staff Sgt. Joseph, a sensor operator instructor with the 49th Operations Support Squadron writes notes on his sensor operator student on Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Joseph, a six-year sensor operator, learns something new every day, and challenges his students to do the same. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

Staff Sgt. Joseph, a sensor operator instructor with the 49th Operations Support Squadron writes notes on his sensor operator student on Oct. 5 at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M. Joseph, a six-year sensor operator, learns something new every day, and challenges his students to do the same. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Emily Kenney)

HOLLOMAN AIR FORCE BASE, N.M. --

He intently peers at the screen -- focused and vigilant. He's watching -- waiting to strike.

The bright lights from the screens shine on the face of this 20-year old and eager Airman. He focuses on his target, moving carefully -- never breaking his concentration.               

Over his left shoulder stands Staff Sgt. Joseph, taking notes on his student, prepared to instruct and intervene during his student’s first strike mission.            

As a 49th Operations Support Squadron sensor operator instructor, this is a normal day for Staff Sgt. Joseph. His primary responsibilities include teaching Airmen skills to be capable, effective sensor operators.            

“The training for a student usually includes a two month tech school then they come here for Initial Qualification Training, which can take three to four months,” said Joseph. “The different stages of instruction include a pre-brief, brief, stepping to the aircraft, going out to the (Ground Control Station), the two-hour flight, the instruction, and finally the re-construction instructional fixes in the debrief.”            

However, the learning doesn’t stop once a student is out of the GCS.

One benefit and challenge of being an instructor is empowering students to understand their vital part of such an advanced mission.

“Some advice I would give to a student is to understand the bigger picture,” said Joseph. “Understand what you’re doing. You can go through basic training, tech school and IQT, and not fully grasp what your part of the mission is. If that’s the case, our intent was not met. You can read a book and take a test, but if you don’t grasp why you’re doing it, you’ll have a tough time in the operational unit.”

Throughout his six years as a sensor operator, Joseph has learned something new every day. 

He challenges his students to do the same.

“The section I find most difficult for students is encompassing what they’re going to be doing in this career field,” said Joseph. “They realize there’s a big difference in what they’ve heard versus what they’re actually going to be doing.”

The students are challenged throughout their IQT as they build upon each block of instruction.  

“There are multiple phases of instruction,” said Joseph. “They are learning so many things back-to-back. They have to keep all the information they’ve learned together and retain it, all in order to be prepared when they leave here. They need to be prepared to learn something new every day, even after they are out of training.”

Instructors are challenged every day, transitioning students from the classroom to the simulator to the GCS.            

One personal challenge Joseph faces is catering his teaching style to different students.

“You never have the same student,” said Joseph. “So, you have to figure out how each particular student learns and receives information. Yes. A lot of students make the same mistakes, but it’s all about being able to understand your students and provide that fix.”            

However he caters his lessons, Joseph is certain his students understand the primary focus of Remotely Piloted Aircrafts: Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance.  

“The section I find to be most useful for students when they leave here is one of our basic phases, ISR,” said Joseph. “That is one of the most basic mission sets that every sensor operator needs to understand.”

The ISR mission is the basis of operation for both pilots and sensor operators. It dictates how their mission can proceed.

“We can’t do anything else on this platform unless we do ISR,” said Joseph. “That’s where we get the information about the target area we’re working in, the things we’re looking for. This allows us to provide valuable intelligence for our supported units in any way we need to.”            

While there are several benefits to being an instructor, Joseph benefits most by knowing the difference he makes for future sensor operators.

“Depending on what squadron they go to, they’re going to be doing exactly what I was doing operationally,” said Joseph. “So, it’s rewarding knowing they’re taking the instruction I gave them into their operational environment.”