Perseverance pays off

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Quion Lowe
  • 49th Wing Public Affairs

A former MQ-9 sensor operator who commissioned and became an MQ-9 pilot, understands the value in asking for help.

The process to become a commissioned officer for the Air Force was a long and challenging process for 1st Lt. Shack, 6th Attack Squadron MQ-9 Reaper instructor pilot, but he persevered with the help of many individuals. He hopes to pay forward the assistance he received by molding newer generations.

“Do not give up, there is always somebody there to help you,” said Shack. “I know the process for commissioning can seem like a daunting task, but I am willing to break it down and share my experience with anyone who wants help.”

While MQ-9 sensor operators and pilots work closely together to complete the mission, there is a distinct difference in the roles they fill.

“From the pilot side I think of us as the mission coordinator or manager,” said Shack. “The sensor operator does the vast majority of the target exploitation, and the pilot handles aircraft placement in addition to the majority of communications and weapons work. I am not saying a strong sensor operator cannot handle communications and weapons, but that is the average crew dynamic.”

As an Airman, beginning his sensor operator career, Shack realized that due to their added level of responsibility, pilots would have the final say for any ideas for improvement sensor operators might have.”

“I was a sensor operator for 11 years,” said Shack. “I got a chance to be operational and teach students. One thing that was a constant was the importance of pilots in the sensor operator career field. It seemed anytime I wanted to make a change it had to go through the left seat (pilot). I had great mentors who instilled in me early that I needed to look at the bigger picture to determine what path I wanted my career to be on. I decided I wanted to have as much impact on my own career as I could and became motivated to commission.”

With the initial motivation Shack had acquired to become an officer, the assistance he received from those around him proved to be critical in his success.

“One of my mentors is now Lt. Col. Michael, we worked together in weapons years ago,” said Shack. “He did a lot to inspire and mold my mentality when it comes to work ethic, leadership and the whole Airman concept, including family. He is definitely a strong mentor I like to stay in touch with every day.”

“Another person that really inspired me is my wife,” said Shack. “It didn't matter what assignment I pulled her to, what base or town I stuck her in, she was always supportive. Living with her and having her push me as much as she does, I wouldn't be here without her.”

Once he was past the selection process and officially becoming an officer, Shack began the training to become an MQ-9 Reaper pilot and was able to make an impact on the other students right away due to his experience.

“I got a chance to show the students what this community is all about,” said Shack. “I told them this community stands together based on the bonds that we're building now. I wanted to show them how to integrate their work and home life. It is one of those things where if the family doesn't enjoy the people that you work with, working there is going to be a lot harder. I find that getting our families together really helps out.”

The leadership and guidance that Shack practiced during training became vital to his next assignment, as he was given the opportunity to immediately become an instructor pilot as part of a new program for students excelling in course material.

“Having just been in the shoes of the students, I offer a unique perspective because I just went through the same training,” said Shack. “Also, I am only a lieutenant, so they are not going to be as tense as if they were sitting across from a captain or a major. It is a chance to have a little bit more relatability, and the handful of students I have taught thus far have said it is helping them connect the dots and get where they need to be.”

As Shack enters the latter half of his career, he says the mentorship he can give the Air Force’s next generation is what he most looks forward to. He often looks to help Airmen trying to commission in his own career field and offers the same advice to all other Airmen, “do not give up.”

“I remember all the talks from chiefs and commanders about building up tomorrow’s Airmen and leaders,” said Shack. “I genuinely get it now. They knew where they were at in their careers and could see the struggles of tomorrow’s Air Force and were trying to prepare the brand new Airmen. It is very satisfying for me to start seeing that in my own career and I want to do what I can to turn today’s Airmen into the leaders needed for the problems of tomorrow’s Air Force.”