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Nashville Guardsman completes one of AF’s hardest courses with honors

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan, a member of the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, displays his Air Force Weapons School graduate patch Sept. 3, 2019 at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tenn.

U.S. Air Force Maj. Ryan, a member of the 118th Wing, Tennessee Air National Guard, displays his Air Force Weapons School graduate patch Sept. 3, 2019 at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tenn. Ryan, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons, graduated from the rigorous school with honors on June 15, 2019. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Anthony Agosti) (The spot healing tool was applied to this photo for security reasons)

Nashville, Tenn. --

A Tennessee Air National Guardsman achieved a very rare and prestigious career accomplishment: graduating from one of the most intense and rigorous courses offered by the Air Force.

Air Force Maj. Ryan, a member of the 118th Wing at Berry Field Air National Guard Base, Nashville, Tennessee, recently completed the intelligence weapons instructor course June 15, 2019 at the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada.

The six month course provided about 400 hours of graduate-level academics, and featured the world’s most advanced training in weapons systems and tactics.

“This is hands-down the most difficult thing I've done in my military career,” said Ryan, whose last name is being withheld for security reasons.  “It's not even remotely close.”

Ryan said he had classwork for 10 hours daily, but his work did not stop when he got out of class.

“The expectation is you will prepare a 45-minute block of instruction that you will give at 7 a.m. the next morning, on some aspect that you learned today,” said Ryan. “You get back to the room, change clothes, bring your food to warm up in the microwave, and you're there until midnight working on how you do your block of instruction.”

Ryan said the course was so intensive that a classmate, who had a master’s degree from Harvard University, said this course was more difficult than getting his degree there.

Not only was the course difficult, just getting into the Weapons School was an intensive and difficult process.

“I was hired here in 2001, and [Ryan] is the second person I've known to go to this course on behalf of our wing,” said Lt. Col. Christopher, a squadron commander at the 118th WG. “He is the first and only intelligence officer to be sent from the 118th since I have been here, and the first in nearly 20 years.”

Christopher said that on average only one or two guardsmen a year are selected to attend the Weapons School. The caliber of candidates is very high, as many applicants hold degrees from some of the best universities in the country.

One of the reasons the Weapons School is so difficult is because it prepares students to become experts in many different fields.

“It's a leadership school, it's a tactical problem solving school, it's a mission planning school,” said Ryan. “The idea is to prepare you to put you in the most difficult positions that you might be facing out there in the real world.”

Ryan said the first part of the course teaches you to become an expert in a particular weapons system. Then, you are taught how to become an expert instructor for that weapons system. Finally, the course concludes with training on becoming an expert at integrating all available weapons systems in the Air Force, for tactical operation planning.

As intensive as the course is, it is not uncommon for students to fail. Ryan said that it’s normal for the class to lose 15 to 25 percent of its students before graduation.

Ryan also achieved another feat at the school that made his accomplishment even greater, receiving the Lt. Col. Andrew Miller Award; an MVP-type award voted upon by his fellow classmates.

“I think the reason I got it is because I was the class leader, and I took that responsibility very seriously,” said Ryan.  “[The course] stresses you as a human, and I was just trying to do my best to look out for everybody.”

Even though Ryan had the mental fortitude to help his classmates through the course, it was still stressful for both him and his family.

Ryan said being away from his family for so long was hard. He also said there were numerous days he was so mentally drained from studying, he was only able to speak to his wife and kids for two minutes.

Ryan said despite the sacrifices he had to make, attending the Weapons School was a life-changing experience.

Leadership around the 118th WG recognized his achievement, and know he will be an invaluable asset.

“He is specifically ready to bring the wing to a readiness level that we don't understand yet,” said Christopher. “I personally think that Ryan has an opportunity to shape the wing for the next decade.”

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