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Eagle pilot upgrades to NATO mission commander

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Airmen from the 493rd Fighter Squadron participate in the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The TLP is a multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Airmen from the 493rd Fighter Squadron participate in the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The TLP is a multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, dons flight gear along with other aircrew members prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, dons flight gear along with other aircrew members prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- (from left) Capt. Aaron Schuett, Capt. Cody Clark, Maj. Jason Bianchi, Capt. Robert Hendrick, 493rd Fighter Squadron pilots, walk to their F-15C Eagles to prepare for a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- (from left) Capt. Aaron Schuett, Capt. Cody Clark, Maj. Jason Bianchi, Capt. Robert Hendrick, 493rd Fighter Squadron pilots, walk to their F-15C Eagles to prepare for a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, walks to an F-15C Eagle to prepare for a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, walks to an F-15C Eagle to prepare for a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, performs pre-flight checks prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, performs pre-flight checks prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, speaks to Senior Airman Adam Kipper, 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013.  The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of mobility, speaks to Senior Airman Adam Kipper, 748th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crew chief, prior to flying a training mission during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron are checked prior to take off during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013.  The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron are checked prior to take off during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 18, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron prepare to take-off during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 17, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- F-15C Eagles from the 493rd Fighter Squadron prepare to take-off during the Tactical Leadership Program Jan. 17, 2013. The 493rd FS is participating in the multi-national program, which develops key leadership and mission planning skills needed for NATO operations. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Lausanne Morgan)

ALBACETE AIR BASE, Spain -- Capt. Aaron "Buck" Schuett, 493rd Fighter Squadron chief of squadron mobility, always wanted to be a fighter pilot, but he never thought he would be in Spain training to be a NATO mission commander.

"I thought at some point I'd get to take a vacation to Spain, but not be here, enrolled in a multi-national exercise doing an upgrade," said Schuett, whose squadron and its F-15C Eagles are taking part in the Tactical Leadership Program here Jan. 16 through Feb. 7.

"We are participating in the TLP, which is a NATO-run program designed to help focus on leadership, to help interoperability with friendly air forces and to help build large force mission commanders," said Schuett, a Louisville, Kentucky native and a 2007 graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy.

Based out of Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, Schuett's preparation for exercises such as the TLP began years in advance. In order to qualify for the course, a pilot must be a flight lead for four aircraft, which equates to two years on station, 500 flight hours, and a lot of "12, 14, 18-hour days," said Schuett.

Based on his tactical and leadership ability, Schuett was chosen to be the squadron representative to go through the NATO-specific upgrade.

"He won't toot his own horn," said Lt. Col. Mike Casey, 493rd FS commander. "But the (Director of Operations) and I decided that he would be the honored TLP student because he had such outstanding performance in his four-ship flight lead upgrade."

It is a mentally and physically demanding upgrade. Schuett, joined by aircrews from Belgium, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and the United Kingdom, log long days filled with briefings, mission planning, and a lot of flying.

"It's definitely a challenge trying to focus on not just how to employ with one jet, but trying to talk to some of the folks like the British that are flying the Tornados," said Schuett. "On top of the fact that the planning cycle is very short, we only have about two-and-a-half hours from the very beginning until it's time to go to the jets to plan a 22-aircraft scenario."

Each of the fighter aircrews bring a different set of skills to the month-long program, which according to Schuett, will add both a humbling and motivating dynamic to the training.

"Every fighter pilot that shows up thinks that his aircraft is the best and while we are very proud of the F-15, the other folks that are doing the air-to-air mission are very proud of their aircraft," he said. "They have capabilities that we don't have; we have capabilities they don't have. "

"We have to figure out how to maximize their strengths and use other aircraft strengths to mask their weaknesses. You get that stress of having to work together to keep each other alive, if you will, in the actual scenario so everyone comes back home," he added.

Yet the stress is expected when flying an F-15C Eagle; an aspect of the job that Schuett knew he would encounter should he achieve his goal of becoming a fighter pilot.

"I knew from a really young age that I wanted to be a fighter pilot," said Schuett. "It's been a lot of work and whole lot of luck mixed into that I got to be in the world's greatest air superiority fighter."