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International military student office best in the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Capt. Gabe Johnson
  • 162nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
They come from Europe, Asia and the Middle East to learn to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon from the Arizona Air National Guard, and Guardsmen here serve as their wingmen in more ways than one.

When flying over the military training ranges of Southern Arizona international student pilots have experienced instructors to guide them; but back on the ground they need help with housing, transportation, documentation and adapting to American culture. That's where the 162nd Fighter Wing's award-winning international military student office (IMSO) takes charge.

The wing's seven-member IMSO staff recently took home the 2007 IMSO Team of the Year award in the small activities category for their superior service out of 24 IMSOs Air Force wide.

The Air Force Security Assistance Training Squadron (AFSAT) presented the award to Maj. Donna Wolslagel, the wing IMSO officer, Aug. 5 during the annual IMSO conference held at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas. The small activities category includes all offices supporting less than 200 international students annually.

"We've never won this award before," said Major Wolslagel, a nine-year IMSO veteran. "So to us it's a wonderful recognition of all that has gone into building this program over the years and ultimately the service we have provided to our international students."

IMSO supports about 100 student pilots per year ensuring on-time and complete training. The staff oversees the wing's compliance with all international training requirements. They provide cultural education to wing members before they come into contact with foreign students. They coordinate official visits from international leaders. They are on call 24/7 for any emergency situations involving their students.

"Without a solid IMSO program, our students would not be able to focus on their primary mission... learning to fly the F-16," said Col. Randy Straka, 162nd Operations Group Commander. "They need a focal point where they can go to get help with family problems, buying a car, finding a place to live, health care and so on. Those things are not easy to do when you're in a foreign country. When their personal issues are taken care of they can get to work with their instructors."

At the end of training when students are surveyed about the most memorable part of their experience they always mention the IMSO office, said Major Wolslagel.

"We're the ones who meet them at the airport. We're the ones who take care of them. We're the ones who help them handle family issues. And we're the last ones they see when we drop them off at the airport at the end of training. From start to finish they are in our care, and it's extremely rewarding to have a hand in showing them the American way of life," said the major.

Prior to being named the top IMSO in the Air Force, AFSAT singled out the wing's office as a flagship program for others to follow. The staff members are designated subject matter experts, and are often asked to assist other IMSOs across the country.