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16th ACCS Airman takes break from JSTARS mission, aims to take career higher via RPP

Photo show female Airmen standing in front of Group and Squadron signs outside building.

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. – Staff Sgt. Danielle Cox, a 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron communications system technician with the 461st Air Control Wing, stands in front of her headquarters building at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, April 13, 2021. Cox attended the Rated Preparatory Program, which was opened to enlisted Airman within the last year, to expand her basic aviation skills and knowledge. (U.S. Air Force photo by Rodney Speed)

ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

A noncommissioned officer with the 16th Airborne Command and Control Squadron in the 461st Air Control Wing recently stepped away from her mission at Robins Air Force Base, Georgia, to take part in the Rated Preparatory Program to strengthen her basic aviation skills.

Staff Sgt. Danielle Cox, a 16th ACCS communications system technician who attended the program, normally works to ensure systems are ready to go on the E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft for each mission.

“We perform an internal and external inspection of the jet pre-flight and then power on and bring up all of our systems, setting them up for the specific mission we're doing that day,” she said.

During the mission, Cox monitors the aircraft’s systems and troubleshoots when necessary.

“If any errors occur that cannot be remedied in flight, we take notes of what we encountered to pass to maintenance personnel post-flight,” she said. “After the mission, we power down our systems and attend our mission maintenance debrief and operations debrief.”

No matter what, Cox and other CSTs ensure Airmen on the JSTARS aircraft are equipped for the mission at hand.

“Whether in a training or deployed environment, when executing our mission, we are part of the overall war fighting capability of the Air Force and directly support other aircraft, as well as personnel on the ground,” she said.

Cox, who has been with her unit since August 2019, said she has a number of other responsibilities that support the Air Force mission as well. Currently, Cox is serving as the enlisted executive assistant to the 461st Operations Group superintendent.

While the 30-year-old Douglasville, Georgia, native values the Air Force mission she currently serves, her interest was piqued when a senior noncommissioned officer with her unit recently shared information about the Rated Preparatory Program that was posted at https://mypers.af.mil/.

The RPP is a combined effort with the Air Force and the Civil Air Patrol to improve the general flight knowledge and experience of those looking to become rated officers.           

“I saw it as a great opportunity to gain experience that would help me improve the chances of being selected as a rated officer at the next Officer Training School board,” she said.

Cox recently took a brief break from her primary mission to attend the RPP, which was recently made available to enlisted Airmen.

She was one of 403 Airmen who applied to the program Air Force-wide. Of the 60 selected, Cox was one of the 20 enlisted members invited to the program.

“The program is aimed at those who do not have any flight hours or who may have never been exposed to the experience of flying throughout their lives,” Cox said. “You are given online study material to read through and prepare before the temporary duty.”

RPP is offered at multiple locations. Cox participated in the program at the Denton Enterprise Airport in Denton, Texas.

“The assignment to your airfield lasts for a week, where you are paired with a flight instructor and another Airman to gain flight experience and flight hours,” she said. “We flew in a Cessna 182 aircraft and received seven and a half flight hours over the course of our week.”

Seeing the enthusiasm of the flight instructors was the best part of the program, Cox said.

“Each one of them had a genuine interest in sharing their knowledge and helping us improve day to day,” she said. “Being around so many people that loved flying and wanted to share their knowledge with us was amazing.”

Cox said she plans to compile her officer training school application and apply to the next rated Officer Training Squadron board.

“I believe this program has greatly increased my chances of being selected at the next OTS board for a position as a rated officer,” she said. “My goal is to continue on in one of the rated career fields.”

For now, though, Cox plans to continue serving her mission with her unit at Robins.

“As a rated officer, the flight training will be valuable during Initial Flight Training after OTS,” she said. “I believe it has also improved my understanding of the work that pilots do and will improve in-crew coordination no matter what position I move forward in.”