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Leading in the Shadows of Giants

Forging NexGen Commandos with the Air Commando Association

By SMSgt Jonathan Van Nevel
The 492d Special Operations Training Support Squadron is the largest formal training unit in Air Force Special Operations Command. Our “Blacksmiths” are 440 strong and consist of active duty, government civilians, contract employees, and reservists. We are responsible for administratively managing initial and mission qualification training for all AFSOC aircraft including the AC-130J and the U-28A. On average our student population exceeds 200 Airmen, each with an aspiration to make a difference in the world.
Forging the next generation of Air Commandos requires us to find the right balance between training and readiness. If training is too difficult, we risk overwhelming students, which could lead to poor performance and remedial training. Alternatively, if training isn’t challenging enough, we risk wasting time, money, and resources. Therefore, it’s essential to identify the right balance for each student, in essence we must strike when the iron is hot!
As with any training unit, our student population varies between high and low performers. Some students are quick to exceed the standard, while others struggle to meet the standard. One noticeable character difference between those in the margins of this bell curve is intrinsic motivation. High performers are internally driven to do something difficult and come out stronger, sharper, and more resilient. For Airmen that are not intrinsically motivated, leaders ought to help them find a sense of hope, purpose, and inspiration and help them succeed in training, but we don’t have to do it alone.
The third Annual 492d SOTRSS 5K and Heritage event was held in May 2023. The Blacksmiths partnered with the Air Commando Association, so our students could hear firsthand accounts from veterans who didn’t just get through training, but took home a win – not for themselves, but for our nation!

Shown in the photo from L-R: Clay McCutchan, Maj Gen (Ret); Steve Thornburg MSgt (Ret); Steven Dryer, Col (Ret); Lloyd Moon, Col (Ret); Paul Harmon, Col (Ret); Al Greenup, Col (Ret); and Less Matheson Lt Col (Ret).

A personal thank you to all the ACA volunteers for serving a tall glass of hope, purpose, and inspiration – it was refreshing for us all! I’m proud to be a part of an organization and community that formed an event, bridged generational gaps, and gave us all an opportunity to embrace our proud heritage – to learn from those who embodied the heart of our Airmen’s Creed – Honor and Valor! I applaud all Air Commandos within our community to continue to serve beyond their service and look forward to doing it again next year!*

About the Author: Jon Van Nevel is the Senior Enlisted Leader at 492 SOTRSS. He has 15 years experience in AFSOC and has accumulated 2,400 flight hours on the AC-130U Spooky Gunship.
*This article first appeared in the Air Commando Journal Vol 11 Issue 3 on page 6.

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