SAN ANTONIO – The 182nd Fighter Squadron stands as one of the premier fighter training units in the nation. The job of its instructor pilots is to take inexperienced fighter pilots and teach them how to employ the F-16 to defend the country.
The 182nd FS is a part of the Air National Guards 149th Fighter Wing. What separates 182nd FS from the other units is that student pilots receive training from some of the most experienced pilots in the F-16 community.
"Most of our instructor pilots have close to 3,000 hours flying the F-16 and have deployed (in) various theaters," said Col. Raul Rasorio, commander of the 149th FW. With the 182nd FS having so much collective experience, the unit has earned a reputation in the F-16 community for being strict with the student pilots.
"We've heard from some students who were worried about starting training here because word on the street is that we are pretty tough, but once they're here and embedded in the operation, they appreciate the time the instructors spend with them," said Rosario. "We are tougher, but we have the most experienced IPs in the Air Force out of any squadron, operational or training."
Rosario said one of the reasons the 182nd has so many experienced instructor pilots is the quality of life the unit's location offers.
"The unit has provided my family and me an opportunity to put down roots both professionally and personally in the San Antonio area," said Maj. Caleb Cienski, an instructor pilot with the 182nd FS. "To do that while still being able to instruct and fly the F-16 has been a real blessing."
Being located in a metropolitan area such as San Antonio isn't the only reason instructor pilots want to transfer to the 182nd. Another reason is the unit's reputation.
"Yes, there is a huge draw for family and morale and all those things, '' said Rosario. "Still, a lot of folks seek out the Gunfighters because they know they're not just coming to a training unit in the Guard, they are coming to 'THE' training unit in the Guard."
Teaching and seeing students become F-16 pilots is rewarding.
"It is a really fun process to see the pilots transform over time," said Cienski. "One of the reasons that I joined the Lone Star Gunfighters is I didn't want to take my war stories to a bar somewhere. It's been fun to take the experiences I've had in the Air Force deploying, flying all over the world, and hand those off to the next generation of F-16 pilots."
As one of the nation's three F-16 FTUs, the 182nd FS has a vested interest in keeping its training fresh.
"We want to keep our force relevant, so we have a few instructor pilots deploy each year, and they come back and give us lessons learned to keep the unit up to date on tactics, procedures and everything that's going on in the Air Force," said Rosario.
For these instructors pilots, passing on their skill set to the next generation gives them satisfaction.
"I think, ultimately, what keeps them doing that job, as tough as it is, is that love of teaching," said Rosario. "For us as fighter pilots, you may not have that drive at the beginning of your career, but then you transition to a point where you say, 'I have learned some things I've done something - why not share that with the next generation of pilots protecting us? Someday, when I am sitting on my rocking chair drinking my beer, I can know that there is someone up there protecting the skies, and I had a part of that."