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Wheels up in Tucson, wheels down in Key West

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Kelly, 47th Fighter Squadron pilot, conducts a pre-flight inspection on a A-10 Thunderbolt II on the flightline at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida during the 924th Fighter Group’s annual training, July 17. The pilots took this opportunity to teach eight student pilots how to fly in and out of new airspace and firing at a new target range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Brandon Kelly, 47th Fighter Squadron pilot, conducts a pre-flight inspection on a A-10 Thunderbolt II on the flightline at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida during the 924th Fighter Group’s annual training, July 17. The pilots took this opportunity to teach eight student pilots how to fly in and out of new airspace and firing at a new target range. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

Naval Air Station Key West, Florida — U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Justin Cameron, 924th  Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshalls Lt. Col. Brandon Kelly, 47th Fighter Squadron pilot, at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida during the 924th Fighter Group’s annual training, July 17, 2017. Working in the humid climate posed a new challenge for the aircrew and support Airmen but as a team they are working them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

Naval Air Station Key West, Florida — U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Justin Cameron, 924th Maintenance Squadron crew chief, marshalls Lt. Col. Brandon Kelly, 47th Fighter Squadron pilot, at Naval Air Station Key West, Florida during the 924th Fighter Group’s annual training, July 17, 2017. Working in the humid climate posed a new challenge for the aircrew and support Airmen but as a team they are working them. (U.S. Air Force photo by Technical Sgt. Courtney Richardson)

Naval Air Station Key West, Fla. -- Reserve Citizen Airmen of the 924th Fighter Group rolled up their sleeves and embraced the humidity to complete their annual training here July 18 in the tropical environment of Boca Chica Key, Florida.


The unit brought along 10 A-10 Thunderbolt II’s, supported by two KC-135 Stratotankers, and about 190 personnel including flying students.


“We chose this destination based on flying training because that’s our mission,” said Lt. Col. Brian Cusson, 47th Fighter Squadron, "Termites," commander. “We are using this time to make sure our instructor pilots remain razor sharp and practice things they rarely do.”


Alongside the almost 35 instructor pilots, came eight student pilots who are in their last phase of training.


“There is a lot of value added to the students because they get to learn how to deploy, conduct mission planning, and how to get in and out of new airspaces,” said Cusson. “They are also going out to new target ranges in a new airspace they haven’t seen before.”


While the "Termite" mission is the same, the location is drastically different from what the team is used to.


“The terrain is 180 degrees different from the desert of Tucson.” said Cusson. “In Tucson we have dry weather with access to great ranges in the desert environment. Here we have to deal with things that we normally don’t have to worry about like flying off of an island, working through thunderstorms daily, and flying over water.”


The change of scenery doesn’t just affect the pilots, the maintainers have to make adjustments as well.


“Operating in a humid environment coming from a [dry one] is a challenge,” said Major Bobby Cheek, 924th Maintenance Squadron commander. “The change in environmental factors afford the Airmen with different troubleshooting learning opportunities.”


Cheek went on to explain that while they are adjusting to the climate change, this location is still a benefit for his team.


“Anytime you’re exposed to different variables and you have to troubleshoot different problems, it’s only creating a better maintainer,” said Cheek. “Our training goal here is to practice and demonstrate a movement as if we were activated and mobilized for a contingency operation, if we are ever called upon.”


While the unit’s primary focus is the training mission, both commanders also recognize that team building is just as important.


“As a commander [we] are responsible for unit morale,” said Cusson. “One of my objectives is for my team to mingle with our neighbors.”


At home station the Airmen are separated geographically.


“We are all in the same location here so I want the operations people to walk around and meet the maintainers, see what they do, and learn something,” said Cusson, “I want them to get to know their family.”