KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Recently, the Air Force made the decision to send highly qualified enlisted members to the air surveillance officer training course.
Historically, the ASO has been a rated aircrew commissioned officer only, typically a Captain or Major.
“I am the one and only noncommissioned officer in Pacific Air Forces performing the air surveillance officer job,” said Staff Sgt. Daniel Propst, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron ASO. “I was initially qualified in November of 2019 and since then have been performing the ASO responsibilities. Primarily this includes management of my team which detects, identifies, reports, and tracks all airborne contacts in our area of operations.”
As an ASO, Propst is in charge of the senior surveillance technician and air surveillance technicians on the aircraft. He also manages specific data links and sensors.
“The significance of having an enlisted member, the first Pacific Air Forces enlisted member to be qualified as an ASO, is that it opens up a whole new avenue for our enlisted aviators to have a much bigger responsibility than normal,” said Lt. Col. Jamey Frazier, 961st AACS commander. “These Airmen are already actively involved in the mission but in this case by Propst being the air surveillance officer, he is running the entire surveillance section as well.”
Frazier explained the remotely piloted aircraft program has transitioned from primarily commissioned officer pilots to majority of them now being enlisted aviators.
“We are transitioning these enlisted members into a vital role formerly held by officers,” Frazier stated. “They are in charge of the section now giving them the opportunity to find the next step and showcase what they can do for the Air Force as career enlisted aviators.”
Due to his stellar performance, Propst was approached by his squadron leadership and asked if he was interested in the applying for the program.
“Of course I immediately agreed to be a part of the program,” Propst said. “After I completed training I made sure to come back to my squadron and begin passing on everything I learned to my fellow Airmen. This innovation opens up a lot of opportunities for enlisted members in our career field and will extremely assist our mission effectiveness across the globe.”
Propst didn’t just graduate the ASO course, he was recognized as distinguished graduate for his class.
“It was a real honor being selected as distinguished graduate but the greatest honor I have is managing the team of surveillance operators and integrating with other team members on the aircraft efficiently,” Propst explained. “For me, that’s the most rewarding part of his job.”
By stepping into this new role Propst is allowing surveillance airmen aboard the aircraft the opportunity to progress through their careers and to lead in a very active way.
“It’s not uncommon for Staff Sergeant Propst to be leading members of his team who are senior noncommissioned officers, all of whom outrank him,” said Senior Master Sgt. Christopher Fowler, 961st AACS superintendent. “However, he is their leader on the aircraft because he is the ASO. It gives a new upgrade path for the air surveillance and senior surveillance technicians as well as allows the AWACS community to utilize its airborne battle managers in the most efficient way possible and capitalize on their strengths.”
According to Fowler, Propst was selected because he was simply one of the best as his tactical and technical expertise is unparalleled.
“It’s fantastic to watch him be so successful and lead in such an extraordinary capacity,” said Fowler. “We are excited to see this program continue and have our enlisted force members take on additional roles inside the aircraft. From what we have seen at our squadron, the program has been a tremendous success.”
Enlisted aviators have years of experience, knowledge and expertise running the systems, while also tracking and identifying contacts. Frazier explained how this is the logical next step, giving them the ability to lead and manage the section.
“This is a perfect opportunity for the Air Force to use our high-performing, technical expert members effectively so they can move on to the next step and show how much more we are able to get from them,” Frazier stated. “For us, Staff Sergeant Propst stands out. He is the definition of a subject matter expert. Even before his selection to become an air surveillance officer, he was the person we went to regarding questions in our career field world. He was the natural choice because he is such a technical expert in this area.”
For Propst it’s simple; he understands how vital the mission is, takes care of his teammates and ensures his team meets their requirements in order to assist the larger Air Force mission.
“The most exciting part of this job is knowing how critical our responsibilities are to the larger Air Force mission,” said Propst. “Every day is exciting and working with phenomenal people makes it a truly enjoyable experience. I’m just extremely thankful and humbled to have been selected by my leadership for this new opportunity. They have really guided and shaped me in accomplishing this new role effectively. It’s good to see the Air Force is moving in this direction and that other enlisted members will have the same opportunity to serve and excel in this role making our total force mission a success.”