Veteran lives for international instruction

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Levin Boland
  • 97th Air Mobility Wing Public Affairs
Cary Davidson was a young captain when he trained his first international student pilot on the U.S. Air Force C-141 Starlifter 25 years ago.

The year was 1988 and Altus AFB trained students from around the world on the C-141 and the U.S. Air Force Lockheed C-5 Galaxy. The KC-135 Stratotanker kept those planes in the air so the training mission could prevail.

"I used to be assigned here at Altus as a captain in 1988," said Davidson. "I instructed C-141 simulators, flights and academics in the 57th Airlift Squadron."

More than 25 years later, with more than 30 years of flying experience and two retirements later, retired U.S. Air Force Maj. Cary Davidson is back at Altus AFB under the 97th Air Mobility Wing, training students from around the world, but this time as a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III simulator instructor.

"I retired in 2000 and then came back on active duty during [the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq], did another four years and retired again in 2006," said Davidson. "Now I have been working since 2007 as a civilian C-17 simulator instructor."

Since Davidson's time at Altus AFB, the 97th AMW's audience for training has grown.
"In the 80s, I mostly trained United Kingdom students on the C-141," said Davidson. "Most of the variety of students I have seen came to train on the C-17. Now I train students from the U.K., Australia, Canada and many other countries."

Davidson is not the only retired military instructor who couldn't get enough of Altus. Most civilian instructors were once active duty instructors that worked alongside Davidson.

"When I was here from 1988 to 1992, half of these guys were instructors with me," said Davidson. "'Hey I remember you, and I remember you! Did your wife used to fix my wife's hair?' It really is a small world."

Although some of the buildings, organizations, and aircraft have changed over the years, for Davidson and the other instructors, the mission has remained the same - strengthening international partners.

Now, the 97th instructors train thousands of students a year including international students from 16 different countries around the world right now to become pilots, boom operators and loadmasters on the KC-135 and the C-17.

"Every year we normally train around 2,000 students and out of those, more than 100 are international students," said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Cook, 97th Training Squadron international military student officer.

The training provided by the 97th AMW is critical to supporting coalition missions between the U.S. and partner nations.

"One of the main reasons we train the international students is because they will be operating out of a lot of the same places that we do," Cook said. "These are our coalition partners so as we go downrange and we are flying out of the same airfields they are, we want them to operate the aircraft safely so we can all work together in the same airspace."

Since the program began, instructors from Altus AFB have trained aircrew from 32 different nations. Hosting training at Altus AFB can benefit the student's country as well.

"A majority of the counties have very few assets whether it is the C-17 or the KC-135," Cook said. "To stand up an entire training unit - one to two jets, instructors, and a simulator, which is a large part of the training we have here - just isn't feasible for most countries."

The international military students also think highly of the instructors and their mission here.

"We are very enthusiastic to be here," said a French air force captain, who is a KC-135 pilot training. "The instructors have tons of experience which is a plus for our training and they are very dedicated to what they are teaching us. It's clearly not only their job, but their passion to share their experiences and teach us students."

Whether the instructors were teaching 25 years ago or now, something that has not changed is the global impact that these instructors make every day. The 97th AMW instructors are helping countries from all over the world grow by increasing their militaries' capabilities on the KC-135 and C-17.

"It is such a great opportunity for us to get the chance to work hand in hand with these countries. It broadens our horizons and opens possibilities for when we work together in the future," said Cook.

And even though the 97th AMW still has big plans for training in the future, Davidson has reached his final goal for instructing at Altus AFB.

"I love training these students," said Davidson. "This is so much fun and I am just going to continue to enjoy my retirement doing what I am doing."