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Initiative takes Duke Field Airmen to new heights

Airman looks out aircraft window.

Capt. Katie Saunders, 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron chief of public health, takes in the view from a C-146A Wolfhound during her incentive flight at Duke Field, Florida, May 2, 2021. The incentive flight program is another tool officials from the 919th Special Operations Wing plan on using to reward high-performing Airmen. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile)

Two Airmen prepare to board a C-146A Wolfhound aircraft.

Capt. Katie Saunders, 919th Special Operations Medical Squadron chief of public health, and Senior Airman Julisa Groves, 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group command support staff, prepare to board a C-146A Wolfhound during an incentive flight at Duke Field, Florida, May 2, 2021. Squadron and group commanders will soon be able to nominate Airmen to the Chief’s Council to participate in future incentive flights. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Dylan Gentile)

DUKE FIELD, Fla. -- A new incentive flight program slated to start later this year will provide Citizen Air Commandos an opportunity to experience the Wing's mission in a way they haven't been exposed to before.

The objective of the initiative is to offer high-performing Airmen a glimpse of the mission they support while offering an alternative to traditional awards programs.

“It can be hard to see the overall purpose of your work if all you see is the inside of a cubicle or the inside of a workshop,” said Chief Master Sgt. Bobby Barton, superintendent of the 919th Special Operations Group. “If we can get Airmen out flying and show them the mission they’re supporting, they can have a moment of illumination [on how they are supporting a larger effort for the Wing].”

A version of the incentive flight program existed prior to the loss of the MC-130E Combat Talons at Duke Field. Changes to Air Force Instructions enabled the wing-level Chief’s Group, who manages the program, to resume the initiative on the unit's current aircraft.

While all beta flights conducted thus far have been on board C-146A Wolfhound aircraft, the Chiefs Group aims to eventually expand the program into the 919th Special Operations Wing’s other airframes.

“If you’re out there hitting it out of the park every day, we want to give something back to you,” said Barton. “I'm thrilled that my team was able to put this program together within such a short timeframe.”

Additional flights and implementation of wing-level guidance is ongoing to formalize the program. The Chief’s Group expects flights to occur on an ongoing basis.

“Knowing people believe in me enough to nominate me for this program makes me want to push myself and be the best Airman I can be,” said Senior Airman Julisa Hernandez Groves, command support staff for the 919th Special Operations Maintenance Group. “Getting on one of our own planes really gave me a sense of pride in our unit.”

Groves was on board the incentive beta-test flight with three other nominees this Spring.

 “The takeoff was so much faster than a commercial aircraft,” said Groves. “The pilot did touch and goes and let us sit in the jump seat. Being able to see what the pilots see was honestly breathtaking, I feel as if I understand the mission a lot better now.”

The Chief’s Group accepts nominations from squadron and groups to ensure that high-performing Citizen Air Commandos get a chance to touch the sky.

“It’s absolutely critical for folks to understand how crucial they are to accomplishing the mission,” said Barton. “It doesn’t matter if you’re pushing paper or tin. [Pilots] can’t fly an aircraft if the engine doesn’t work, [pilots] can’t talk to ground teams if the radios don’t work, and [Pilots] can’t fly if they can’t function as an aircrew member because their eyes are bad or ears are bad.”

To read more about how the Wing is contributing to the nation's defense, follow the 919th SOW on Facebook and Instagram.