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Navy Air and Missile Defense Command finished its first Integrated Air Missile Defense Weapons Tactics Instructors Course here 27 Nov. Seven sailors received diplomas and a broadened perspective that will improve the Navy's Surface Warfare capability.

"They are leaving this course and heading to ships having more tactical knowledge than many of the officers they will be serving with," said Lt. Cmdr. Marc Davis, WTI coordinator. "While many courses add a new tool to a toolbox, this course provides an entire mission area tool box."

WTI curriculum starts with a core competency course on the Aegis weapon system and branches into networks, electronic warfare, mission planning, space warfare, joint capabilities, command and control and multi-ship tactics. The course provides a mix of guided discussion, tabletop exercises, labs and student-led instruction. Course graduates become trainers and instructors at key training commands throughout the Navy and then return to operational fleet commands.

"I know this training is the key to the Navy's future and you - as graduates - will make a positive impact on the Fleet," said Rear Adm. Randall Hendrickson, NAMDC commander, during the graduation ceremony.

The chief of the surface warfare community, Vice Adm. Tom Copeman, has strongly endorsed this program. "Quite frankly, it is long overdue," he said. "We are serious about building on maritime war fighting fundamentals and this course will make a tremendous difference."

Graduates were happy to have the 17-week program behind them, they were also energized to get back to work and show their wares.

"You will learn very quickly how much you don't know," said Lt. Jonathan Nate, a 2009 graduate of the Merchant Marine Academy and a SWO. "Parts of this course are at the 30-foot level while other sections are at 30,000-feet."

"Be ready to be challenged," said Lt. Adam Galazka, a former enlisted sailor who graduated from Officer Candidate School in 2009. "If you are looking for easy shore duty this course is probably not for you."

The WTI concept dates back to Vietnam when Navy pilots were absorbing high aircrew loss rates in combat. Some 40 percent of aviators did not survive their first three hostile engagements. If they survived to flight four, however, they had a 90 percent chance of finishing their tour.

To increase the odds, the Navy Fighter Weapon's School was born. Known as Top Gun, the training dropped the Navy's combat losses dramatically. The maturation of this program through the 80s and 90s formed the Naval Strike and Air Warfare Center.

Continuing with this well established path to success, the surface force community decided to offer a WTI program focused on Integrated Air and Missile Defense. Juxtaposing the growing enemy threat against declining tactical proficiency, the data clearly show that the surface force needed a WTI program to enhance tactical skill sets.

At the helm of this Integrated Air and Missile Defense WTI is the Dahlgren-based Navy Air and Missile Defense Command. This command has a proven team of experienced IAMD trainers and subject matter experts. They are well versed on the threats of our adversaries and the capabilities of Navy fleets.

"Although not a panacea for the gaps we have in IAMD, it is a tremendous step forward for the SWO community," said Davis. "Course graduates will become trainers and instructors at key commands throughout the Navy and they will play a critical role ensuring the Navy is prepared to defend against existing and emerging air and missile defense threats."

The next WTI course starts January 13 and graduates May 23; the class following begins May 27. If you want to apply please email NAMDC@Navy.mil for class enrollment information.