Striker

U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew Willes stands in front of a B-52 Stratofortress at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Willes currently serves as a Striker Trident intern at Air Force Global Strike Command, the U.S. Air Force major command responsible for the nation’s strategic bomber and Minuteman III ICBM fleets.

U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Sydney Bennett

A U.S. Navy submarine crests the waves of the Pacific Ocean, its gray hull capped with white foam as it submerges back into the icy depths. Several thousand miles away, U.S. Air Force missileers sit in underground launch control centers filled with an assortment of screens, buttons, dials and switches. They wait for a call they hope never comes, the end-result of the U.S. President’s decision to deploy nuclear weapons.

At any given moment, the nation’s strategic bomber fleet, made up of B-1s, B-2s and B-52s, stands ready to execute the deadliest half of their nuclear/conventional mission. When these aircrews are not taking the fight to ISIS, or reconnoitering drug smugglers, they’re honing their skills in the employment of some of the most dangerous weapons in human history.

All of these Airmen and Sailors have one thing in common: they work day in and day out to prevent World War III. Their force is one that is survivable, responsive and flexible — a dynamic that underpins a relative world peace.

Although all branches of service play a role in deterring large-scale conflict in one way or another, two services are frequently identified with the offensive aspect of this mission: the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. For this reason, it should come as no surprise that these services are strengthening their ability to deter aggression by playing an active role in each other’s professional development.

Striker Trident

In Striker Trident, Air Force and Naval officers spend approximately two years at sister service duty stations engaged in exercise planning and other assignments, duties that help increase their understanding of the nuclear enterprise. After completing the program, Airmen and Sailors return to their respective services with new lessons learned, ideas and a sense of the larger strategic picture. It is a program that focuses on developing the next generation of senior leaders in the nuclear enterprise.

"In Striker Trident we bring officers from the Navy's portion of the nuclear enterprise to Global Strike to broaden their understanding about the enterprise as a whole,” Jeff Fugate, chief of AFGSC Officer Talent Management, said. “The same goes for our Air Force officers, who join units in the U.S. Navy’s nuclear submarine force. Both of these programs give the interns a broad look into the Nuclear Enterprise, an opportunity to receive mentorship from senior leaders and attend leadership development courses and other professional development opportunities.”

“I’m benefiting and the Navy is benefitting,” U.S. Navy Lt. Andrew Willes, Striker Trident intern, said. “I received an opportunity to visit U.S. Strategic Command for two days in transit, and I’ve also attended a course at Kirtland Air Force Base, New Mexico. It’s also important to see this side of the enterprise as it places things in a larger context. Seeing the bigger picture helps me understand more about what I was doing as a junior officer in the submarine force.”

Willes currently works in AFGSC’s Directorate of Operations and Communications division as an operational planner. Like many of his fellow interns, Willes will rotate through different directorates to gain a larger perspective of the mission. He also manages an exchange program that gives Airmen an opportunity to visit U.S. Navy submarine bases for a week at a time.

Capt. Brian Contival, Willes’ Air Force counterpart in the program, is currently serving with Commander, Submarine Force Atlantic, Naval Base Virginia.

“I saw an opportunity to learn how a sister service executes the same strategic mission in an entirely different environment, and to see how the missile operations community looks from the outside,” Contival said. “I'm also going to gain a better understanding of the unique capabilities of the different legs of the nuclear triad, and how we work together to get the job done. I'd like to use the experience I gain from this program on the Joint Staff or at HAF, working on the broader strategic deterrence mission.”

Striker Pathfinder

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Much like Striker Trident, Striker Pathfinder provides Air Force officers with an opportunity to attend professional development courses and gain experience at the major command level. Unlike Trident, Pathfinder is Air Force only and seeks to develop interns within both the ICBM and bomber functional areas.

“We used Striker Pathfinder as a template for Striker Trident,” Fugate said. “Before, Striker Trident interns were just doing the job, but the development piece wasn’t really there. Like Pathfinders, our Trident interns will have the same opportunities for professional development.”

“Having a behind the scenes look at the various decisions made at all levels of the MAJCOM staff as well as the numerous learning opportunities that the Pathfinders are provided have been the most rewarding aspects of the program,” Capt. Crystal Rapelje, Striker Pathfinder intern, said. “Upon completing the Pathfinder Program, I plan on using the knowledge and experience gained to further my career within the Intelligence Community supporting an Intelligence Squadron or at an Air Operations Center.”

Rapelje now works in AFGSC’s Directorate of Strategic Plans, Programs and Requirements as an ICBM Programmer and will work in other directorates before completing the program.

“The idea is that all of these graduates have an opportunity to enhance the Nuclear Enterprise as they move on to be future leaders,” Fugate said. “We’re looking at this being the premier officer development piece in the command. Whether they are stationed with a naval unit within the enterprise or they come here, these officers will have a greater sense of the overall strategic mission.”

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Chris Huber is the managing editor at the Rapid City Journal.