June 13, 2012 (by Robert Sexton) - A 55th Fighter Squadron instructor pilot has earned recognition as the top in his craft in Air Combat Command.
USAF Capt. Matt Feeman, a 55th FS instructor pilot, and SSgt. Jeremy Hadzick, a 55th FS Dedicated Crew Chief, look over documents to prepare an F-16 for takeoff at Shaw AFB on June 12th, 2012. Feeman is the Air Combat Command instructor pilot of the year. [USAF photo by A1C. Hunter Bardy]
Capt. Matt Feeman, a flight commander and the 55th FS
' lead instructor, summed up his roles: Besides leading seven or eight pilots in his flight, he takes input from the weapons and tactics experts and passes it on in usable form throughout his squadron.
"Class is always in session," Feeman said, adding that he's always aware of the example he sets for all the other pilots he rubs shoulders with or flies alongside. He believes that everything he does either adds to or takes away from his credibility as a pilot, flight commander and instructor, or "IP
" as pilots say. He commented, "My IP hat is always on."
To become the top IP of 2011 for ACC
, Feeman first had to distinguish himself among 17 IPs in his squadron, and then 45 in the 20th Fighter Wing. He faced similar numbers of IPs in every ACC wing. That year he served three combat deployments.
"Success," he explained, "has been defined as 'preparation meeting opportunity.' It was my responsibility to be prepared. I was given some unusual opportunities."
In the bigger picture, Feeman also gained opportunities to excel during the NATO
-led operations over Libya during Operation Unified Protector.
His biggest challenge in the year, he said, was preparing his squadron's pilots for OUP.
According to his nomination, when ACC ordered his squadron into action a month earlier than originally planned, the entire deployment, combat and all, went without a major hitch due to his effective instructing.
He's always enjoyed leading, he said, since his high school football days when he was named team captain.
"I'm thankful that the Air Force saw the capability (to teach) in me and let me teach other people," the captain noted.
"Capt. Feeman is supremely talented," declared his commander, Lt. Col. Mike Schnabel. "It's his drive to be the best and his love of teaching that set him apart from other instructors.
"Being humble and approachable," Schnabel added, "combined with his credibility in the myriad of F-16 combat missions, allows him to connect with those he instructs and teach them the most current tactics, techniques and procedures needed to employ the F-16CJ
to maximum effect."
Contributing to that credibility, besides his three combat tours, was Feeman's achievement earning his squadron's top gun award in 2011, and placing second out of 120 pilots in the wing.
Feeman's drive, example and instructing has a "force-multiplying effect for both the (squadron) and the ... wing," Schnabel pointed out.
At any given time, Feeman said, he can be teaching pilots at any level: from newly assigned and still striving to become mission qualified, to senior officers. "Because our job is so demanding, we have to learn constantly," he said.
Feeman mentioned two teachers who are his role models: He recalled his high school chemistry teacher, a Cuban refugee, who overcame her disadvantaged background to become a great teacher. "I never saw any teacher who cared so much. She made time for every one of us."
He also cited Maj. Jason Cooper, the "best pilot and best instructor I've known." It was from Cooper, he said, that he learned to take "complex subjects and make them simple."
"It's not just my award. For every achiever, there are a lot of people who help them (succeed)."
As a pilot, he said, he takes his hat off to the maintainers who provide him good aircraft. "Without them, there is no Air Force."
"I owe thanks to all of them for enabling me to be where I am," Feeman said. "The biggest contributor I need to acknowledge is God. He made me who I am. And I thank God for my commanders who had faith in me."
A 2005 graduate of Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at Florida State University, Feeman has served in the 20th Fighter Wing for three years. Now he's packing his bags, however, as he's reporting to the Fighter Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. in July. Next he's headed to Hill AFB
, Utah, to the 388th Fighter Wing.