Col. Kevin Heer, vice commander, 132nd Fighter Wing, Iowa Air National Guard, talks during a tour of operations in Des Moines, Iowa. They are providing maintenance and upgrading for National Guard units across the country. An F-16 from Alabama is seen in the background. (Rodney White / The Des Moines Register via AP)
DES MOINES, IOWA — Nearly 300 members of the Iowa National Guard are learning new skills as they train to operate remotely piloted aircraft known as drones.
Since the end of the manned F-16 flight program for the National Guard’s 132nd Fighter Wing was announced a year ago, 290 people were chosen for training and full-time work on controlling the four MQ-9 Reaper aircraft, The Des Moines Register reported.
Col. Kevin Heer, vice commander of the wing, said Tuesday that of the 1,002 personnel at the local base, more than 600 did not have the skill set needed for the new missions. Major reshuffling has occurred. More than half of those at the base were trained and transferred from the F-16 program to another mission. Thirty jobs were lost.
Those waiting for assignments are still performing maintenance on aircraft from other states.
“A lot has gone on in a year,” Heer said.
The drone mission is in an initial stage while a building undergoes construction to meet its needs. In the meantime, personnel are getting training that lasts at least six months. They’re asked to commit 36 months to the mission.
“There is a level of excitement,” Heer said, “not just the senior leadership posts, but everybody around this base, about the new missions we’re in, and about the enduring nature of these missions. These are missions that are going to be around for decades. They are missions that are going to significantly impact the security of our nation.”
Master Sgt. Jake Hermanson, 32, recently completed six months of training in Texas. He is now a geospatial intelligence analyst, after spending the last 15 years doing maintenance.
“When I first signed up, I enjoyed working on aircraft, and I never really thought I’d be doing an intelligence specialty like that,” he said, then later added, “There’s a lot more security and feeling of prosperity possible with the opportunities available.”