37 HS aviation pioneer earns UH-1N Instructor Flight Engineer Reservist of the Year

  • Published
  • By Joseph Coslett Jr.
  • 90th Missile Wing

Tech. Sgt. Ethan Williams, 37th Helicopter Squadron flight engineer, made significant contributions to the field of aerial nuclear security and aviation training. His achievements and commitment to his squadron and fellow Airmen left an indelible mark on the 37 HS. 

As a member of the 37 HS, Williams is responsible for providing aerial nuclear security across a vast 9,600 square-mile area, supporting taskings of the U.S. Strategic Command. Recently, he led a team for 128 man-hours in the successful installation of a mission rehearsal trainer as part of a $5,000,000 contract.

One notable accomplishment of Williams is the integration of the new rotary wing progression training course with a flight simulator and rehearsal trainer. This innovative approach accelerated aerial-fire training, resulting in an impressive 77 percent increase in readiness rates across 18 courses. 

Additionally, his strategic implementation yielded cost savings of $3,100,000 in training expenses, according to his award. Through coordination with 12 different offices, he forecasted combat certification training for 198 aircrew members and facilitated temporary duty assignments.

Recently, the U.S. Air Force recognized Williams as the UH-1N Instructor Flight Engineer Reservist of the Year, an acknowledgment that came as a surprise to him. 

“I didn't know I would be the winner until today, to be honest,” he admitted. “It’s exciting and humbling. The fact that leadership recognized my contributions retrospectively is truly a proud moment for me.”

Recognizing the potential of virtual reality in enhancing aerial-fire training, Williams revolutionized the training process by tailoring training profiles to operational needs, according to his award. This approach effectively overcame the challenges posed by the shortage of live fire ranges and facilitated 48 gunnery events. 

“His dedication has significantly advanced the mission of the helicopter and global strike capabilities,” said Lt. Col. Kathleen Tenpenny, 37 HS commander. “Sergeant Williams has been an integral part of the helicopter group since its inception in 2015.” 

Not content with revolutionizing training methodologies, Williams also played a role in developing course flow plans for 12 programmed events. These plans supported 84 students and involved 96 instructor hours across three geographically separated units. Additionally, he spearheaded a project to demonstrate the concept of mixed reality capabilities in vehicle interdiction, delivering a groundbreaking asset pursuit capability.

“I’m the proudest when I can stay relevant to the squadron I came from,” Williams said, reflecting on his transition from active duty to the reserve side. As a reservist, he acknowledged the challenges of maintaining combat readiness and contributing effectively to the unit.

“It is important to me to serve and give back because I know the grind of flying double turns on long convoys and switching from days to nights,” he said. “Being able to help give time back to people is important to me.”

Since joining the 37 HS in 2016, Williams witness firsthand the significance of a squadron culture has on individuals. 

“What makes the 37th awesome is the culture, which is always dependent on the people,” he said. “I've been lucky to have really good commanders and exceptional people to serve with. When you can forge close relationships and endure challenging days side by side while still looking forward to seeing each other the next day, it’s a testament to the strength of our squadron.”

When reflecting on his favorite memory from the past year, Williams recounted a training exercise involving a hoist weight check. 

In an ironic twist of fate, he found himself being instructed by someone he had taught just two years prior, he said. During the exercise, an emergency procedure unlike any he had encountered before unfolded, presenting a unique challenge.

Williams’ rapid reaction skills were put to the test during a critical hoist malfunction, according to his award. With his quick thinking and advice to the crew, he successfully recovered the system and ensured a safe landing. 

“Seeing generations work together through a problem was a neat moment,” Williams said. 

Beyond his professional accomplishments, Williams dedicated time to run five study groups and established mentorship plans to resolve performance deficiencies for five initial qualification students. 

He shared his personal experience of understanding the toll that demanding missions take on both the body and family life helps him give back to his comrades.

Sharing an example, he highlighted a situation where he recognized the risks associated with a new Airman's high score on a risk sheet. Despite the Airman’s motivation to prove themselves, Williams made the decision to prioritize their well-being and temporarily remove them from a flight, he said. The outcome demonstrated the positive impact of providing individuals with the opportunity to regroup, resulting in improved performance.

“A good NCO will recognize when things get rough for someone,” Williams said. “Allowing them to take a breath, take a knee and recharge will change not only a person but the squadron. 

“We can always grind it out; however, having the moments to show grace to make someone better and stronger in the long is what I've seen change entire cultures.”