BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. --
B-52’s and bombs, the two are synonymous when it comes to Barksdale’s global strike capabilities, but what often goes unrecognized, are the men and women inside the plane who actually employ those weapons.
Without the skilled Airmen who earn the title of weapons system officer, the lethal B-52H Stratofortress ceases to have its deadly capabilities.
“Our primary focus is striking the enemy,” said Capt. Austyn L. Wilson, 20th Bomb Squadron weapon system officer. “Anything to do with bombing, that’s our primary mission.”
Weapon system officers or WSO’s, are aircrew officers who are involved in all air operations with extensive training in operating weapon systems.
“We are basically the leaders of the mission,” Wilson said. “We are in charge of all the weapons on the aircraft and how we execute and employ those weapons.”
In order to earn the title of WSO, Airmen go through approximately two years of training to become fully operational.
“The first step is going through either Officer Training School, ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) or the Air Force Academy to earn your commission,” said Capt. Robert D. Irvine, 20th Bomb Squadron weapon systems officer. “Then through your commissioning source, you’ll apply for a rated slot for the combat systems officer (CSO) career field.”
Once picked up to become a CSO, Airmen attend a slew of subsequent training, to include: Initial Flight Training, Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training and training done at their Formal Training Unit.
“It’s tough, but it’s worth it,” Irvine said. “One day you look back at your previous training and say ‘hey, I could’ve done this way better if I’d known then what I know now.’”
Even after becoming fully operational, training plays a major role in the life of a WSO as they fly training missions at least once a week.
“A lot of what we do relies on training,” Wilson said. “Our training and how hard we push ourselves with training scenarios, that’s what really drives that foundation that we rely on.”
“On a flying day, we’ll come in early in the morning, get all the paperwork squared away and then gather up all of our equipment and head to the integrated operation center,” Irvine said. “There we’ll get a step brief, check out our aircrew flight equipment, step out to the jets and takeoff.”
A typical training mission lasts for roughly six hours and can vary depending on what type of training is being accomplished.
Along with flying duties, WSO’s handle all the paperwork and additional duties it takes to run a squadron.
“We basically serve as our own internal support,” Wilson said. “We have people taking care of all of our training records, awards and decorations. We have people doing stuff personnel-wise with flight scheduling and ground scheduling, so we serve in several different functions outside of flying.”
Between flying missions and non-flying duties, the job of a WSO can become inherently intense. When faced with a difficult or adverse scenario, WSO’s rely not only on their training, but on their wingmen as well.
“We push each other hard so that we can be lethal and not be afraid to fail,” Wilson said. “Being able to do that with your brothers and sisters and have their support when doing it that’s how we handle that stress and adversity.”
Even through the tough times and long missions, the Airmen of the WSO community continue on the mission with a great deal of pride.
“When we take a step back and sit in our heritage room, just being a part of the culture and making history, it just makes you proud,” Wilson said.
So as long as there are bombs and B-52s, you can be sure a WSO is there, ready to complete the mission.