First Air National Guard Weapons Instructor Course graduate from 178th Published July 16, 2013 By Senior Master Sgt. Joseph R. Stahl 178th Fighter Wing Public Affairs SPRINGFIELD, Ohio -- A recent graduation at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., provided the 178th Fighter Wing here with the distinction of having the only U.S. Air Force Weapons Instructor Course graduate in the Air National Guard who flies remotely piloted aircraft. Maj. Jim Tom set himself apart by earning the academic and flying awards for his graduating class and is the only current Air National Guard graduate. The U.S. Air Force Weapons Instructor Course is an intensive six-month course held at Nellis Air Force Base. Only five RPA pilots are chosen for each class, and only one of those is from the Air National Guard. The RPA portion is a new addition to the weapons school. "It's new, a lot of people wash out," said Tom. Tom is one of 29 graduates of this school including all of active duty, Guard and Reserve. Tom believes that he "jumped to the front of the line" because of his experience as an Air Force F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon training pilot. "There was a high level of interest that the Guard send someone who could make it through [the course], and be successful," Tom said. "I have background instructing tactical aviation; it was a good fit." Tom says the class teaches pilots to take a tactical problem, then break it down and come up with a plan to solve that tactical problem. Students then must brief and communicate their plan, and execute that plan. Student must be able to debrief what went right, what went wrong, and what they were going to do to fix any issues next time. Tom earned the academic award for his class for having the highest test average and for writing the best research paper. Topics for the research paper were chosen from the Air Force RPA community based on the most pressing concerns in the community. "My topic was based on what the [RPA] community thought was a deficiency in the knowledge of their pilots," said Tom. "My paper set me apart [from the rest of the class]; the instructors really liked my paper." The second award Tom received was the "Top Stick" or top flying award. This award was based on successful training missions flown and the instructor's consensus of best overall flying performance. "I had no idea that I was going to win any awards," said Tom on earning these awards. "Getting the patch at the end was the only think I cared about. It was nice to win, but graduating was all I cared about." Tom is thankful to be back at the 178th FW and is preparing to put his training to good use in his role as Chief of Weapons and Tactics. "This mission is only getting bigger, and the Guard's role is expanding," said Tom. "Part of the appeal for this [job] is that I could get in on the ground floor [and] help lay a solid foundation for years to come. That's not to say that the foundation isn't there already ... there are many Guardsmen who have been successfully flying RPA for many years, but things always change. We won't be fighting the same way forever." Tom said that he would be there to prepare Airmen for what's next, and to help instructors spread the good word when the time comes.