Gunning for the Future

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Bryan Crane
  • 509th Bomb Wing Public Affairs
Have you ever watched "We Were Soldiers" or "Black Hawk Down" and thought to yourself, "Man it would be really cool shooting a machine gun out of a helicopter"?

Staff Sgt. Mathew Tidball, 509th Logistics Readiness Squadron fuels hydrants supervisor, is taking that thought to real life as he cross trains into Special Missions Aviation and has completed three of his five training courses in pursuit of becoming an aerial gunner on a UH-1 Huey Helicopter.

Before joining the Air Force six years ago, and before his aspirations of becoming an aerial gunner, Tidball grew up in the small town of Nashville, Michigan.

"When I first joined the Air Force I wasn't sure if I wanted to make it a career," Tidball said. "I was looking at it more for the experience and the only goal I really had was to make Staff Sgt. my first time."

Tidball would go on to promote to Senior Airman below the zone and after three years he decided to make it his career.

Through his first six years in the Air force, Tidball has been lucky to see a lot of the world. His career began at McCord Air Force Base, Washington, Kunsan Air Base, South Korea, Royal Air Force Mildenhall, England and here at Whiteman AFB. Tidball has also deployed four times, three times to Manas AB, Kyrgyzstan and once to Moron AB, Spain.

Working in the fuels career field has been a pleasant experience for Tidball, who noted the people he has met through this career has been the best part. After five years of working as fuels distribution operator and supervisor, fuels service center technician, fuels accountant and his current job as fuels hydrants supervisor, he decided it was time to make a switch for his future.

"I really enjoy being part of the support group and helping the mission from behind the scenes," Tidball said. "It's cool to know that I could refuel a jet today and tomorrow it's in another country putting in work, indirectly putting warheads on foreheads."

Tidball decided he wanted to see a more direct result from his work which motivated him to search for a career in the operations side of the Air Force.

"I knew I wanted to go to the ops side, so I looked into a variety of aircrew jobs," Tidball said. "I quickly decided I wanted to be an aerial gunner and applied to cross train into Special Missions Aviation."

After being accepted for his new career, Tidball began his first training course on January 10, 2014 at Lackland AFB, Texas. His first course was Aircrew Fundamentals, a ten day course that all flier or sensor operators must attend.

Following the first ten day course, Tidball returned to Lackland for a two month course for three level training.

"So far the hardest part of my training has been the three level course," Tidball said. "There was so much technical information that you've never seen before that they try to cram it all in so fast. It's not easy to pick up all the information as quickly as you need to so there is a lot of mental work that goes into it with all the information you have to learn."

The most recent course he has attended was the Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape course that consisted of 19 field days, two water survival days and one day specifically for helicopter crews called the dunker.

"The most fun I've had in my training so far was definitely our six days stuck in the woods during SERE," he said. "We had to kill, skin and cook our own rabbit and as an avid hunter that part was fun for me and overall it was a unique experience that not everybody gets to do."

The final two courses he will have to attend will be the two longest of his journey. His next stop will be Fort Rucker, Alabama, to attend a two and a half month Career Enlisted Aviator Rotary-Wing Fundamentals course. During this course he will begin his hands on training with his weapons and aircraft.

Following his trip to Maxwell AFB, Tidball heads to Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, to complete his Initial Qualification Training which will last four to five months long. Once complete His will become an official Special Missions Aviation and will move to his new home at Malmstrom AFB, Montana.

During the break periods between courses, Tidball returns to Whiteman and continues his duties supervising the airman in the fuels shop.

"It's a shame to lose a supervisor like Sgt. Tidball," Tech. Sgt. Robert Peterson, 509th LRS fuels Hydrants superviser. "Even in the middle of his cross-training he still comes back motivated and willing to work every day."

Tidball is looking forward to not having a normal day to day job.

"This opportunity is something that few get a chance to do," Tidball said. "I'm excited, one day I could be flying patterns doing nuclear support the next there could be a hiker lost that we have to go help. You never know what each day is going to bring and it's a thrill I look forward to."