The 310th Fighter Squadron hosted 25 members of the famed Cactus Squadron for a commander’s call May 13 at Luke Air Force Base.
Retired Lt. Gen. Peter Vogler, former chief of staff of the German air force and current Cactus Squadron commander, visited and toured Luke and dedicated the new Cactus Starfighter Conference Room in the 310th FS.
The Cactus Squadron traces its roots back to 1957 when the U.S. Air Force started training German air force and navy pilots to fly fighter jets here at Luke. The first training class included several of the German aces of World War II including Eric Hartmann, the leading ace of the war. The training program marked the first step to rebuilding the Luftwaffe during the height of the Cold War. This program continued for 26 years training more than 2,500 German pilots until the program ended in 1983. The bulk of that training was conducted flying the Lockheed Martin F-104 Starfighter. During this unique period of Luke history, the U.S. and German training partners developed an unexpectedly deep friendship.
In 2000, then Air Combat Command commander Gen. John Jumper and Vogler signed a “decree of honor” which established a formal association between the 63rd FS and the Cactus Squadron. In 2009, this association was formally transferred to the 310th FS. There are 45 local members of the Cactus Squadron who participate in several events throughout the year to educate Luke members about this unique part of our shared history.
During the commander’s call, Vogler spoke of the importance of this history stating, “Germany and the United States have a significantly deeper relationship because of the personal bonds that were built by this program. We must keep these relationships alive.” The Cactus Squadron then presented a description of the program to the current class of students in the Top Hats.
The 310th FS was proud to host Vogler and used the opportunity to dedicate their conference room to the program. The room includes the original decree, books, pictures and several parts from the F-104 including a front canopy, an ejection seat and a full wing.
Every student who trains in this squadron and visitors will get a glimpse into an extremely unique part of Luke’s history. They will hear the story of how enemies became partners, partners became allies and allies became friends. This room helps tell that story.
In addition to maintaining an ongoing relationship at Luke, the Cactus Squadron actively supports the Phoenix community through annual donations to six local charities. Charlie Boettcher, leader of the Cactus Squadron’s local chapter said, “We feel compelled to give back to the community that embraced us so many years ago.”
The U.S. and German friendship is alive and well.