The final Air Force squadron commanding officer serving at Naval Air Station Whiting Field will stepped down Friday, Apr. 4 during a change of command ceremony in the installation’s Atrium building at 10:03 a.m.
Training Squadron THREE has alternated Air Force and Navy commanding officers since 1995. Lt Col Brian Schafer will be the final Air Force Commanding Officer to pass the command flag for a Training Air Wing FIVE squadron. CDR Judd Conatser, Schafer’s executive officer, will take charge of the command.
Under Schafer’s command Training Squadron THREE flew more hours, completed more syllabus flights, and produced more primary graduates than any other Training Wing FIVE Primary Flight Training Squadron. Not only did the squadron have the highest production under his leadership, it also proved to be the most efficient, earning the CNATRA Training Excellence Award and Vice Admiral Goldthwaite Award for 2012. The awards honored VT-3 as the premier training squadron during an extremely difficult time, as the squadron transitioned from the T-34 TurboMentor to the T-6B Texan II. VT-3 was the first squadron to undergo the changeover and established the standards and routines followed by subsequent squadron transitions.
VT-3 developed numerous training innovations during Schafer’s tenure, improving the quality of student graduates and efficiently managing valuable resources. The squadron developed "Knight School" to bridge the gap between the computer-based training provided in ground school and the high-paced flight line instruction provided by active duty instructors. This three week course reduced overhead sorties by 83 percent and decreased check-ride failures by 81 percent. Recently, the Red Knights added to the syllabus by introducing "Instrument Knight School". This program is in direct response to student requests on end of course critiques and the success and popularity of the initial Knight School program.
Schafer leaves the “Red Knights” to work in the Pentagon with the office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It is the next step in his career that began in 1995 as a graduate of the United States Air Force Academy. His first assignment took him to the 4th Space Launch Squadron at Vandenberg AFB before beginning Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB in 1998. Two years later Schafer graduated from the 1st Fighter Squadron at Tyndall AFB. After serving with the 44th Fighter Squadron “Bats”, the 85th Test and Evaluation Squadron, the 95th Fighter Squadron, the 83rd Fighter Weapons Squadron, the 53rd Weapons Evaluation Group and the 4th Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron Lt Col Schafer was sent to Air Command and Staff College. As a student of the Political Military Affairs Strategy Program, he was selected as an Embassy Immersion Fellow to the country of Nigeria where he served as a political officer in the US Embassy in Abuja. He has over 2600 flight hours, including more than 600 combat hours in over 120 sorties during OPERATION SOUTHERN WATCH and OPERATION ENDURING FREEDOM.
Conatser takes command of VT-3 after nearly 18 years of Naval service. He is a 1996 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and earned his wings of gold in 1998. Following the P-3 Fleet Replacement Squadron, Conatser reported to the Fighting Tigers of Patrol Squadron Eight in Brunswick Maine where he flew missions during Operations DELIBERATE FORGE and JOINT GUARDIAN. He followed that tour with service as a Fleet Replacement Squadron Instructor Pilot in VP-30, Assistant Strike Operations Officer onboard USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN (CVN 72), Department Head in VP-8, flying missions to support operations IRAQI FREEDOM and ENDURING FREEDOM, and Defense Sensitive Support Officer and Focal Point Program Control Officer for US Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany.
Cmdr. Jade L. Lepke will replace Conatser as the executive officer for the squadron.