News: New designation means new future for Guard training unit
Story by Master Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa
STARKE, Fla. - In the span of a few moments one Florida National Guard unit became part of the past and another became the way of the future.
On April 12, the Florida Air National Guard's Weather Readiness Training Center was deactivated and replaced, as the 131st Training Flight was activated.
A small afternoon ceremony at Camp Blanding Joint Training Center marked the transition - a transition which according to Florida Air National Guard leadership will increase the training unit's abilities and successes. Florida Air National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Joseph Balskus told the 131st personnel that the new designation will be "significant" towards expanding the unit's presence and importance.
"This is a significant day for you; I'm proud of you," Balskus said to the airmen. "I'm thankful for this day. It has been a long time coming."
The actual change from the WRTC to the 131st was marked by a traditional flag ceremony; State Command Chief Master Sgt. Robert Lee helped "case" the old unit's colors, and unveiled the new colors of the 131st Training Flight.
The WRTC's mission was to train Air Force and Air National Guard weather personnel in combat meteorological tasks. The 131st Training Flight will continue to provide the same support, but the designation as a "numbered unit" will increase its effectiveness in the Air National Guard and help it better equip and train weather airmen to go into combat zones.
"The unit will finally be its own numbered unit, and that's going to give the personnel in the unit the ability to be eligible for unit-level awards," explained 131st Commander and former WRTC Commandant Maj. John Waltbillig. "And it gives us the command authority that our students deserve."
Currently Air National Guard personnel from 42 states have trained at the WRTC, but airmen from all 54 Air National Guard states and territories are eligible for the combat weather training.
"We like to think that we are the best training option for all of the Air National Guard units," Waltbillig added. "And we're hoping to expand through the 131st Training Flight into areas besides weather."
He said those increased training options could include Battlefield Airman Skills, vehicle operations, AFTR training records and other ancillary tasks.
"As the training missions continue to morph and evolve, the 131st Training Flight will continue to meet the needs of today's Air Force and the National Guard through the dedication and adherence to the Air Force core values exemplified by all its personnel," he said.
The WRTC was federally recognized in December 1992 and in 2000 converted from an "as needed" weather course to a continuous 17-week formal school. The 131st's lineage began in the late 1940's as the 131st Weather Flight. Part of the designation's historic past included a deployment to France in 1961 for response to the Berlin Crisis. It received five Air Force Outstanding Unit awards in 1980's-1990's and was inactivated in 2007.