The engine is loud. Shadows from the rotor blades are constantly hitting the ground. The Airmen inside are given the go-ahead to exit the UH-60 Black Hawk. One by one they exit, ducking down to ensure they avoid the blades.
Smiles are on all of their faces. For most of the Airmen, this was their first and possibly only Black Hawk ride.
Airmen from around the state of Wisconsin came together for the Junior Enlisted Development Program (JEOP) July 29-31. They had an opportunity to meet the state's adjutant general, assistant adjutant general and state command chief. They also learned about the missions the Air National Guard has in the state by traveling to the 115th Fighter Wing, Volk Field Air National Guard Base and the 128th Air Refueling Wing.
"I signed up for the program because I wanted to get a broad perspective on the Air National Guard mission," said Senior Airman Brandon Roddick, 115th Fighter Wing weapons loader. "I learned about that, and I also got to make amazing new friends along the way."
Participants came from all three bases and had a chance to interact with each other during each phase of the three-day program. They had a chance to learn about each of the individual bases' missions. They saw the jets at the 115th Fighter Wing, participated in the Leadership Development Course and got all-terrain vehicle training certification at Volk Field Air National Guard Base. They also flew in a KC-135 Stratotanker and watched the boom operators fuel an F-16 Fighting Falcon during their tour at the 128th Air Refueling Wing.
Staff Sgt. Tyson Krug, 128th Air Refueling Wing boom operator, spoke about his experience attending the JEOP about five years ago.
"The incentive flight I was given through the Junior Enlisted [Development] Program really changed the outlook of my whole military career," Krug said. "I was a weapons loader for the 115th with about a year or two left on my original enlistment, and although I loved the opportunities I got being a weapons loader, it just wasn't quite the right fit for me."
Prior to the program, Krug thought he might just get out of the military altogether.
"By participating in the Junior Enlisted Development Program and going to all the different bases, I was able to see the different jobs and opportunities available in the Wisconsin Air National Guard," Krug said. "When I went on the refueling mission and saw what the boom operator did, I thought to myself, wow, if there's anything I would stay in the military for, it would be to become a boom operator."
He was told by the recruiters that it may be a challenge to get into Milwaukee, but still pursued his dream.
"Now I'm eight years in and coming up on another reenlistment," Krug said. "There's nothing I'd rather be doing."
The JEOP gave Krug a chance to discover what he wanted to do in the Air National Guard.
"This is a really cool program and allows Airmen to see how widespread the opportunities we have in Wisconsin are," Krug said. "You're never stuck doing the same job. There are a lot of opportunities out there and a lot of different ways to progress in your career."