SOUTH BURLINGTON, Vt. – Vermont’s 158th Fighter Wing, the first Air National Guard unit with the F-35A Lightning II mission, now boasts the first ANG F-35 pilot to graduate from the challenging U.S. Air Weapons School.
Maj. Howard “Cash” Shaner, F-35A Lightning II pilot assigned to the 134th Fighter Squadron, Vermont Air National Guard, is the first Air National Guard F-35 pilot to graduate from this course.
“It’s definitely an honor and privilege to attend and graduate. The knowledge and experience should benefit the VTANG much more than me personally,” said Shaner.
Active-duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve officers are eligible to apply for admission to the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. After a highly competitive selection process, accepted students face roughly six months of the world’s most advanced training in weapons and tactics employment. This grueling, graduate-level classwork is designed to create tactical experts in various combat specialties.
Before graduating, students must demonstrate their ability to lead and instruct while also effectively integrating multiple weapons systems across land, air, space and cyber domains. Officers must become intricately familiar with the weapons platform or system they have trained on throughout their career path, such as the F-35, and knowledgeable about how the whole of U.S. Air Force and Department of Defense can be employed in tandem to achieve synergistic effects.
After graduation, weapons officers serve as advisers to military leaders and lead combat missions. They problem-solve to lead the force and integrate its combat power seamlessly alongside other military services. Simply, these weapons officers provide best practices for air, space and cyber combat techniques.
When Shaner attended USAF Weapons School in 2020, the graduating class included five F-35 weapons officers among the nearly 150 others from different communities, including space, intelligence, cyber, fighters, bombers, mobility and rescue.
“We couldn’t be more proud of Maj. Shaner’s accomplishment as the first Air National Guardsman to graduate from the F-35A division of the United States Air Force Weapons School,” said Col. Nathan “Wiz” Graber, commander of the 158th Operations Group, Vermont Air National Guard.
Graber said the course "is a grueling endeavor that produces not only the Air Force’s finest tacticians but, even more importantly, leaders.”
The Green Mountain Boys have graduated officers from weapons school in the past, but none have been F-35 qualified until Shaner.
“One of my mandates is to find and build candidates to replace me in this role,” Shaner said.
The 158th Fighter Wing seeks to send more pilots to this course while also focusing on completing the conversion from the F-16 to the F-35. In less than a year, the 158th Fighter Wing is expected to be declared fully mission-ready with the F-35.
“When the 158th Fighter Wing exits conversion, Cash will be the lead instructor pilot of one of five operational F-35A squadrons. Considering the arena in which the 134th Fighter Squadron may find itself in the next conflict, it is heartening to know that we have the first and finest Air National Guard fighter pilot that has graduated from this extremely selective course,” said Graber.
“Maj. Shaner embodies the USAF Weapons Officer motto of, ‘Humble, Approachable, and Credible,’ and will be an asset to the Green Mountain Boys for years to come!”