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Weapons instructors: educating the best to teach the rest

An instructor observes and records how a student pilot responds to complex training situations over Colorado.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Wilson, 29th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations, observes and records how a student pilot responds to complex training situations over Colorado, Oct. 14, 2019. Through the course, the instructors train instructor pilots and navigators to become tactical experts of the C-130 Hercules in a cross-domain battlespace, and challenge them to take their experience to train their respective units, increasing overall combat capability and lethality of the force. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Irvin)

The assistant director of operations poses for a photo in front of a C-130 in Colorado.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Wilson, 29th Weapons Squadron assistant director of operations, prepares for phase three of the C-130 Weapons Instructor Course in Colorado, Oct. 17, 2019. Wilson started his career as a C-130 Hercules pilot at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas, before earning the title of instructor pilot — a prerequisite to the C-130 Weapons Instructor Course which invites the pilots who have what it takes to become the best of the best. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Irvin)

A student pilot looks out the window of a C-130 Hercules.

U.S. Air Force Capt. Josh Travis, 29th Weapons Squadron student pilot, looks out the window of a C-130J Super Hercules during phase three of the 29th WPS C-130 Weapons Instructor Course, over Colorado, Oct. 17, 2019. The third phase, theater airlift, simulates real-world scenarios with less access to planning. The student pilots must navigate and perform airdrops in the mountainous regions of Colorado to get a feel for how the aircraft performs in high-terrain and high-pressure scenarios. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Irvin)

A C-130 Hercules lands on a dirt runway.

A C-130J Super Hercules lands on a dirt runway at Red Devil Landing Zone, Colorado, Oct. 17, 2019 during phase three of the 29th Weapons Squadron C-130 Weapons Instructor Course. The course consists of four phases building C-130 tactical experts, taking six months to complete. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aaron Irvin)

LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark. --

Just another day, as a 29th Weapons Squadron instructor walks out to board a C-130 Hercules — mountains painting the background in a picturesque canvas as the sun slowly peeks over, clipboard and pen in hand as he prepares to do what he loves most, build the next generation of C-130 Hercules tactical experts.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Mark Wilson, 29th WPS assistant director of operations at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, started his career with the initial qualification to become a C-130 pilot at LRAFB, before earning the title of instructor pilot three years later — a prerequisite to the C-130 Weapons Instructor Course which invites the pilots who have what it takes to become the best of the best.

“I had several mentors who were weapons officers, and I realized I wanted to be like them,” Wilson said. “I wanted to be the expert in the C-130 Hercules community.”

In 2016, Wilson graduated from the WIC and became a weapons officer before returning to Dyess AFB to share his knowledge with his squadron.

“When I arrived to the 29th WPS, I realized it was about more than making me better -- it was about taking that knowledge and giving back to the C-130 community to strengthen the entire C-130 enterprise,” Wilson said.

On May 19, 2019, Wilson was selected to return to the schoolhouse at Little Rock AFB as the assistant of operations.

“Wilson has a lot of experience understanding the big picture of what’s going on and he is able to convey that and inject it into the training scenarios,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Mike Smith, 29th WPS weapons undergraduate. “He is very passionate about teaching and is always willing to share his wealth of knowledge to make us, as C-130 professionals, better.”

Instructors conduct a six-month course, forging C-130 Hercules tactical experts. Through the course, the instructors also train instructor pilots and navigators to become tactical experts of the C-130 Hercules in a cross-domain battlespace, and challenge them to take their experience to train their respective units, increasing overall combat capability and lethality of the force.

“I really like watching the students learn things and seeing it click,” Wilson said. “Seeing the lessons learned here, and knowing that they’ll get to apply those when it really matters downrange is exciting.”

After the course, the students will graduate as U.S. Air Force weapons officers and they will go back to their units to share the wealth of knowledge gained while becoming C-130 Hercules tactical experts and eventually becoming head instructors.

“I love teaching here because it's all very advanced,” Wilson said. “You get to test yourself and also watch the students test themselves. It’s very rewarding observing the wealth of knowledge the students gain from when they first get here to the moment they graduate.”

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