F. E. WARREN AIR FORCE BASE, Wyo. --
Capt. Allison Riffle, a nuclear and missile operations officer (13N), knew she wanted two things in her career: she wanted to work for the 576th Flight Test Squadron at Vandenberg Space Force Base, California, and she wanted to go through the U.S. Air Force Weapons School. Little did she know that both goals would become a reality as an Individual Mobilization Augmentee Reservist.
Riffle decided to transition from active duty to the Air Force Reserve when her husband earned a slot at pilot training. Her initial inclination was to separate from military service to support her husband’s dream of becoming a pilot, but after discussions with her supervisors and mentors, she realized there were other options.
“I was introduced to Col. Robert Jackson, he was the 20th Air Force A3 Mobilization Assistant at the time, and he gave me insight into13N IMA Reserve opportunities and possibilities, which was something I didn't even know was an option,” explained Riffle. “Later that year, in 2019, the first 13N reservist pulled alert, and continued to propel the efforts to expand 13N reservists further.”
The IMA program allowed Riffle to meet personal and professional goals while offering the flexibility that allowed her to stay with her husband through pilot training and to his next assignment. Since ICBMs and C-17s are not located at the same installations, this would have been a challenging feat if both remained active duty.
In October 2021, Riffle began her new IMA position at Vandenberg SFB as an ICBM test operator. Around that time, she joined a Zoom call conducted by 20 AF for the IMAs in the missile community.
“I didn’t expect Maj. Gen. Michael Lutton [commander of 20 AF] to be a part of that meeting; I thought it was just going to be a group of reservists…and I asked the question when it opened up to Q and A, because I wanted to continue to explore the possibility of weapons school, what his thoughts were about reservists going to weapons school,” recalled Riffle. “His response gave me optimism when he asked other senior leaders in the panel, 'can they not, is that not a possibility? Let's explore that.'”
From that meeting, she was connected with Col. Jared Nelson, director of 20 AF A3 at the time, and began the application process.
“I applied like anyone else would, it was the background that was different for me, things like funding, all the admin portion, and for the Reserve you need to have a training line number and all these things I have never heard of,” Riffle explained. “There were so many people involved in getting me there. I was very fortunate to be introduced to the right people at the right time, and I am beyond grateful to all those involved.”
The 315th Weapons Squadron, the USAFWS intercontinental ballistic missile squadron based at Nellis AFB, Nevada, trains students to be tactical experts in the Minuteman III system while also learning the art of battle-space dominance and integration of joint assets.
“The course was the hardest thing I have ever done, I learned a lot academically, but I also learned a lot about myself,” replied Riffle when asked about the course. “For a lot of people who go, myself included, I don’t know that they have ever faced failure to the extent that you see it while you are going through. You begin to see those failures as learning opportunities and that you're getting better and growing from those failures. It changes your perspective.”
Now that Riffle has graduated from the course, her role at the 576 FLTS has expanded. In addition to her test operator responsibilities, she will be heavily involved in tactics development and evaluation. This team takes tactic improvement proposals from members across the ICBM community to try to improve current practices.
Other opportunities have opened up as well. With the activation of the 377th Test and Evaluation Group in 2022, a test support squadron is standing up at Kirtland AFB, New Mexico, and currently the weapons officer billet is unfilled. Riffle may be the one to develop and shape the roles and responsibilities of the position, so when the billet is filled someone can easily transition into it.
“Looking at the other weapons officers in the squadron, they have very active roles, so being able to help alleviate workloads and provide support is something I'm fortunate to be able to do,” Riffle commented. “I think [sending an IMA to weapons school] brings a lot of value, same kind of value you see on the active-duty side, it is an investment in your Airmen and their knowledge. For me, there are a lot of things I am able to do on the Reserve side that I think are limited in a traditional active-duty role.”
Riffle plans to pull alerts at each of the ICBM wings to stay knowledgeable on current operations to better inform her role in TD&E, but she also wants to be a resource for the missile squadrons as someone who can fill-in for weapons officers who are on parental leave, extended leave, or need additional support.
“I am really hopeful that for 13Ns [reserve opportunities] continue to grow,” said Riffle. “While at weapons school you have to write a graduate level paper and mine was on establishing the standup of the first reserve missile squadron…my idea for what I think the best construct for that would be not just 13Ns in the squadron, it would include 21Ms, 2M0s, 31Ps, 3P0s, and also 17Ds [maintenance, security forces and cyber], the reason I listed all of those different Air Force Specialty Codes is because I think it will complement the Integrated Command Center that is coming with Sentinel…it would be a progressive step forward for our career field and the future of the ICBM community.”