NELLIS AIR FORCE BASE, Nev. -- An Air National Guard MQ-1 Predator pilot marked the beginning of a new era Dec. 12 as the first unmanned aircraft pilot from a reserve component to graduate from the Air Force Weapons Instructor Course at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School here.
Maj. Tammy Barlette, from the Arizona Air National Guard's 214th Reconnaissance Group based at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, completed the five-and-a-half month course along with three active duty UA pilots. They were the first to attend the school in its 60-year history.
The school, regarded as having the U.S. Air Force's premier weapons and tactics training program, provides graduate-level instructor academic and flying courses. Its graduates are regarded as top authorities in their respective fields.
"I've been through a lot of training but nothing as difficult as this," said Barlette, a former A-10 Thunderbolt II pilot who left active duty to fly Predators over Iraq and Afghanistan full time with the Air Guard.
"The course is intended to make you the best instructor you can be for your squadron, weapon system and the Air Force," she said. "They teach you how to get to the root of a problem and find solutions. It's constant studying, briefing and flying."
Within the first month she had to get qualified to fly the MQ-9 Reaper. The course requires UA pilots to have dual qualification in both the Predator and Reaper so that they can routinely fly training missions with various platforms to include A-10s, F-15 Eagles and F-16 Fighting Falcons.
The school, initially created for fighter pilots, now integrates Airmen from 22 different aircraft and specialties. The addition of UAs is an indication of their value in current conflicts and the need for their inclusion in the broader Air Force mission.
"Our training was focused on preparation for the next conflict," said the major. "The course taught us to keep a focus on the future so that, when required, a vast array of weapon systems can integrate in any number of situations. I feel like I have a better grasp of how all of these capabilities compliment each other, and I think officers from other Air Force communities got a better understanding of what (UAs) bring to the fight."
Back at her unit, Barlette will be her commander's resident expert and will be relied upon to teach fellow Predator pilots how to improve operations.
"Everyone else in the unit will be marching behind her so we can learn how to better serve our customers: the troops on the ground," said Lt. Col. Randy Inman, 214th RG commander.
"We're very proud to have Major Barlette represent our unit, the state and the Air National Guard," Colonel Inman said. "We recognize the historic significance of her accomplishment and I know it was one that did not come without personal sacrifice."
One year ago Barlette was five-months pregnant with her second child when she learned of her selection to attend the school. Accepting the appointment meant she would have to leave her 1-year-old daughter and new-born son the following July.
"I talked it over with my husband and he said, 'You have to go. We'll figure out the rest.' He was very supportive, and my parents, who live in Tucson, helped us out tremendously," said Barlette.
Though Barlette admits the family separation was difficult, she says her new qualification as a weapons instructor will serve her and the UA community well.
"I just wanted to go to the school to get answers. I wanted to get better and I wanted to help my squadron get better," she said.
Barlette said weapon school patch-wearers from UA units across the country will enjoy the added benefit of being able to cross check ideas with each other.