Local

September 14, 2012

OG commander goes from fan to flier

He grew up living under the flight path of jets heading to the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl for a high-speed flyby. As a teenager, he spent time fishing in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains watching fighter jets screaming overhead at more than 500 miles per hour, just 100 feet off the ground.

Now he’s in charge of the largest fighter group in the Air Force and 138 of the jets he used to watch.

Col. John Hanna, 56th Operations Group commander, took charge in June of an OG that’s almost twice the size of previous groups he’s been assigned to.

“Most F-16 groups have two or three flying squadrons and an operational support squadron, but here we have six flying squadrons, an OSS, training squadron and a detachment down at Tucson,” Hanna said. “I knew it was going to be a big job, and when I found out I was coming here as a group commander I thought I could be in over my head. When I sat down and spoke with Brigadier General (JD) Harris, (former 56th Fighter Wing commander), he explained why he picked me, and it put me at ease.”

Hanna said finding out he’d command operations at the Air Force’s largest fighter wing came in December, and it was like getting an early Christmas present.

It’s a present the South Pasadena, Calif., native never dreamed about when he joined the Air Force. He remembers being on vacation in Colorado and getting the call that he’d been accepted into Officer Training School July 4, 1988.

“Early on, I didn’t know there was anything other than the Air Force Academy, but then I met a guy who was in ROTC who said he got a pilot slot, so I spoke with the instructors about joining,” Hanna said. “Because I had only two years of school left at San Diego State, I didn’t qualify. An Air Force Officer Training School recruiter happened to be dropping off pamphlets and heard me speaking with the instructors. He knew my pitch wouldn’t work, but he waited 20 minutes for me to get done. As I exited the ROTC office he said, ‘Hey, come here fella, I think I’ve got what you want.’”

Hanna’s more than 23-year career has taken him to full-time assignments in eight U.S. states while his deployments include stops in 11 countries. He’s spent more than 3,400 hours of his life airborne in different Air Force aircraft. The foreign flights range from 300 miles north of the Arctic Circle in Norway to tropical beaches off Venezuela in areas he said resembled the African Serengeti.

He also managed to find time along the way to earn three master’s degrees.

The mission he now commands will need all of those years of professional and academic experience. The 56th OG serves as the primary unit training F-16 pilots, whether they’re new to fighter jets or pilots requalifying at Luke Air Force Base and moving on to other assignments.

The group also instructs intelligence Airmen focusing on providing pilots information they need to accomplish the missions they fly every day. Also trained under Hanna’s watch are weapons directors from the 107th and 607th air control squadrons as well as air traffic controllers.

Because the group and the 56th Fighter Wing’s mission revolves heavily around training, that’s where his priorities are.

“Ultimately, my goal is to leave the group in better shape than when I took over,” he said. “That is going to be tough because my predecessor left me a pretty well-oiled machine.”

Hanna knows first-hand what’s at stake. He commanded a fighter squadron at Hill AFB, Utah. He also led that squadron in combat while deployed to Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

“It’s a dangerous business, but I’ve come to terms with that,” he said. “The way we train, conduct our risk management program and the things we focus on when we brief and debrief all work toward preventing airplanes from running into each other. I’m comfortable we have the measures in place where I don’t stay awake at night wondering what’s going to happen next, and I’m very confident that we’re doing the right things.”

Any nerves he may have had from running a unit as large as the group he’s in charge of have waned thanks to the people assigned to his command, he said.

“This is honestly the first place I’ve been where all the commanders and directors of operations are very strong,” he said. “All the squadrons have their own unique challenges and it’s neat to watch the commanders work through the challenges and watch the DOs work together to solve problems. I also have a world-class chief as my superintendant and my first sergeant is awesome, as well. Together, they put the finishing touches on my leadership team.

“I’m surprised about how well the wing functions as a whole. It is pretty special to have four group commanders who talk to each other regularly and genuinely like each other. I’ve just been blessed to be a fellow group commander with the other commanders.”

Hanna said one of the most important parts to having a career that’s working on its third decade is balancing work and family.

“My wife and children are a huge part of my life, and they stay with me through all the turmoil that defines an Air Force career,” he said. “They’re much of the inspiration of why I’ve stayed in the Air Force because they’re ‘all in’ as well. I’m fortunate that I’ve found myself a strong partner who’s stuck with me through all of this.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 
Airman 1st Class James Hensley

Luke cuts ribbon on F-35 Academic Training Center

Airman 1st Class James Hensley Gen. Robin Rand, Air Education and Training Command commander, cuts the ceremonial ribbon Oct. 9 marking the completion of the academic training center building at Luke Air Force Base. The buildin...
 
 
Forino_J

U.S., Singapore partnership standout

Lt. Col. John Forino Aug. 9 marked the 49th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. The 425th Fighter Squadron is an operational squadron comprised of elite U.S. Air Force and Republic of Singapore air force personnel design...
 
 
shirts-graphicbw

‘Guts’ required to enforce standards

A few years ago, a fellow senior NCO requested I talk to her subordinate about her appearance, specifically pertaining to her hair. Naturally, I asked about what the issue was and why she couldn’t have a discussion with her o...
 

 
141008-F-HT977-008

Airmen get new ‘Community Commons’

Renovations on Bldg. 700, which houses the Health and Wellness Center, will take place April 2015 through spring 2016 at Luke Air Force Base. Subway and the barbershop will remain open during construction. Other amenities, such...
 
 

News Briefs October 17, 2014

Keep good mental health Calling all Airmen! Sleep disturbances such as insomnia and nightmares can affect people personally and professionally. Reaching out to a medical provider is a step in the right direction to good health. Courtesy of the 56th Medical Group Haunted house The 56th Mission Support Group is featuring Operation: Haunted Block House...
 
 

THUNDERBOLT OF THE WEEK

Jessica Behrens 56th Medical Support Squadron Pharmacist Hometown: Seneca, Missouri Years in service: Three Family: Husband, Chris; daughter, Katelyn, 2; son, Levi, 5 months Education: Bachelor’s degree from University of Arkansas and doctor of pharmacy from Creighton University, Omaha, Nebraska Previous assignments: Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida; Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma; Spring...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>


Directory powered by Business Directory Plugin