Luke Air Force Base marked an important milestone last week when it stood up its first F-35 unit, the 61st Fighter Squadron, at a ceremony on Oct. 25.
Lt. Col. Michael Ebner assumed command of the squadron, which traces its lineage to World War II and received distinction as the first fighter squadron in the European theater to score more than 100 victories.
More than 150 people attended the ceremony, which was held at Club Five Six. The guest list was highlighted by Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, 56th Fighter Wing commander, and Col. John Hanna, 56th Operations Group commander, who was the presiding officer.
The 61st FS, which was inactivated most recently in 2010, will be the first squadron at Luke to fly the F-35A, which is the Air Force’s newest fighter jet. The first jet is expected to arrive early next year, and a total of 16 to 18 jets are scheduled to be at Luke by the end of 2014.
In his opening remarks, Hanna praised the incoming commander, Lt. Col. Michael Ebner, for his leadership and skill as a pilot.
He added that after all the cutbacks involving fighter squadrons and aircraft inventories since the mid-1980s, it was a good feeling to reactivate a squadron instead of shutting one down.
Hanna presented the squadron guidon to Ebner, signifying Ebner’s assumption of command.
Ebner said the 61st FS will stand ready to accomplish any mission.
“I’m proud to be part of a squadron with such a rich history,” he said. “Our work is just beginning. We will train the finest F-35 pilots in the world, and it’s vital that we work as a team to do that.”
Ebner called on the memory of one the 61st FS’s most illustrious pilots, Col. Francis Gabreski, who was the top fighter ace in the European theater in World War II and a fighter ace in the Korean War.
Gabreski is only one of seven pilots to be an ace in two wars.
Ebner said he was privileged to have been one of the pilots in the flyover at Gabreski’s memorial service in 2002.
Ebner’s previous assignment was as 33rd Operations Support Squadron and 58th FS director of operations at Eglin AFB, Fla.
At the conclusion of his remarks, Ebner cited the squadron’s motto:
“I’m a top dog — bring it on.”