Columbus Air Force Base Commander Col. Doug Gosney said 2017 was particularly productive for the base, and he hopes that trend continues in 2018.
Gosney, who commands the 14th Flying Training Wing at CAFB, reviewed the last year’s achievements at the base and spoke about the year ahead during a Saturday afternoon New Year reception for its community partners in the Columbus Club on base.
In 2017, CAFB produced 327 pilots, Gosney said, which is up from the 309 produced in 2016. Pilots at CAFB flew 57,770 sorties and 76,508 hours last year.
Gosney hopes the base will push that further in 2018. At the reception, he said CAFB aims to produce 382 pilots this year, in part to combat a national pilot shortage.
“It all starts at a pilot training wing,” Gosney said. “We have to assess them, select them for pilot training and they have to graduate. … The only way to get after that shortage is to produce more of them and to produce them faster, hopefully. That’s what we’re trying to get after this year and our numbers are going to go up significantly in Fiscal Year ’18, compared to ’17 and ’16.”
CAFB also deployed 104 airmen all over the world in 2017, including six firefighters who are still in Syria.
The base completed an Air Education and Training Command inspection roughly one year ago. Fifty inspectors came to the base, Gosney said, and the base earned an “effective” rating overall. The rating scale has four categories — highly effective, effective, marginal and ineffective.
“While we were highly effective in several categories, our overall grade was effective, which is really quite good,” Gosney said. “Highly effective for an overall grade is the exception — not many wings get that. And we’re proud to report it was the best inspection Columbus Air Force Base has ever had.”
That, coupled with a litany of awards — the 14th Flying Training Wing earned the Air Force’s Outstanding Unit Award for the second year in a row and an Outstanding Civil Engineer Unit Award, for example — highlighted a year that Gosney hopes will help springboard the base to further successes this year.
Gosney said 2018 will be a year of change for CAFB. He said 12 changes of command are planned — nine squadrons, two groups and the wing commander post. Gosney assumed command for the base in July 2016 after former wing commander Col. John Nichols completed his two-year assignment.
Once Gosney completes his assignment at CAFB this year, he said he’s not sure where he’ll be stationed. But he already knows who his replacement will be.
Col. Samantha Weeks, who currently commands the 57th Adversary Tactics Group at Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, will assume command at CAFB after Gosney’s departure. Gosney said he expects the change of command to happen in July or August.
Though he still has several months left, Gosney said he’s enjoyed his assignment to Columbus. He said he’s especially grateful for the support the community shows the base.
“It’s been amazing — the most special assignment of my time, in almost 23 years in the Air Force,” Gosney said. “It’s just wonderful to see the team come together to get the mission done and how they take care of our airmen and families. At the wing level, I get to see from a different perspective than I ever have before, and it’s been really special.”
Several projects will continue throughout the year. For example, Gosney said the base should complete at $1 million gymnasium expansion.
The base will also host an air show on April 21-22 for the first time in four years.
Gosney also said CAFB will send nine pilots to participate in the “Pilot Training Next” program.
Five instructor pilots and four student pilots will go to Austin, Texas, for the program. He said it will focus on trying to determine if technology can help train pilots better than or as well as they’re currently trained in less time. CAFB has the most instructor pilots and the second-highest number of student pilots of any base selected to participate in the program, Gosney said.
“This is some Star Wars kind of stuff,” he said. “They’re using virtual reality. They’ve got a device that’s mapping eye movements so they can send input, track the eye, see how it’s processed in the brain and try to make those synapses fire and learning happen just a little bit faster.
“I have hopes that we’ll take some good lessons from that,” he added. “It may not be the exact roadmap that we’ll go with, but we’re all about producing the same quality in a faster amount of time for less money, and that will help get after our pilot crisis as well.”
Alex Holloway was formerly a reporter with The Dispatch.