Nellis Weapons School ME Phase 11A

On June 8th, an Air Force F-15E Strike Eagle accelerated down the runway in front of a small group of photographers and videographers, on the first ever media day for a ME Phase. We were escorted out to the hold line on the edge of the runway for an amazing chance to shoot some of the most advanced aircraft in the world today, departing and recovering, from their various missions throughout the day.

The Strike Eagle was heading out on the crew’s final sortie of a nine day exercise known as the Mission Employment Phase. This event was the final exercise of the grueling five and a half month long U.S. Air Force’s weapons school at Nellis AFB, for the graduating class 11A.

During this ME Phase, 33 units with 22 combat specialties participated. Over 90 aircraft, fixed-wing and rotary-wing, manned and unmanned were utilized. They ranged from cargo aircraft like the older C-130, to some of the most technologically advanced aircraft like the B-2 Spirit. Various other ground, space, and cyberspace units also participated. They worked seamlessly in making this joint exercise as close as you can get to a real world mission anywhere in the world.

Only the best of the best weapons officers are ever selected to attend this course, and out of the One Hundred-Eight that started the course, Ninety-Three completed it, earning the right to wear the coveted USAFWS graduate patch. This particular class also saw 4 students finish the first ever USN AEA(Airborne Electronic Attack) weapons school class with the EA-18G.Captain John Christianson, Chief of Joint Force Integration said, “The application process to come here can take up to several years, and students have to compete with hundreds of their peers just to make it to the school.In the five-and-a-half months of this course, weapons officers become experts not only in their own weapon system, but also all other Air Force systems, and have to know the best way to employ them effectively with all other capabilities in the U.S. military.”

After an incredible day of photography, and all of the aircraft had recovered from the days mission, we had the unique opportunity to sit down and be debriefed by the weapons school’s Commandant, Colonel Robert A. Garland, Jr., as well as some of the school’s staff. “We do this training so that when our country’s decision makers see that weapons officer wearing that weapons school graduate patch, they can know that person is among the finest, if not the finest, expert in warfare, anywhere on the globe, and that they can be trusted to help them answer any military challenge America faces.” said Col. Garland. Major Suzanne M. Nadal, Chief of Academics, added that the school is always looking to evolve with the emergence of new threats as they present themselves. “We continually adjust and improve our training to reflect the capability, not the intentions, of potential adversaries,” Maj. Nadal said. “We’re always looking for the meanest, baddest threat out there to improve our training.”

Col. Garland later went on to say, “We are deeply grateful to be here in the northern part of Las Vegas and southern Nevada, to have the most incredible simulated battlefield available anywhere in the world. This type of training occurs here at Nellis Air Force Base because it can only occur here, on the Nevada Test and Training Range. It is key to what makes the weapons school what I believe to be the Air Force’s premier air center of excellence. I believe, to the bottom of my heart, that weapons school is central to why America’s Air Force is second to none.”

I would like to thank the Weapons School’s Commandant, Colonel Garland, and the entire weapons school staff, for taking out the time to talk with us and explain the school’s mission and purpose.

I would also like to extend my sincerest gratitude to 2Lt. Ken Lustig, for putting the first, of hopefully many, ME Phase media days together. We were very fortunate to see and photograph in action, the most dominate Air Force in the world.

Written by SGT  Steve Lewis

You contact the author at

Steve Lewis

Steve is a Southern California based photographer living in the Los Angeles area.

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