Commentary

January 10, 2014

Looking ahead to 2014

A Luke Air Force Base F-16 Fighting Falcon escorts an F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter on a training sortie at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla., in fall 2012. Luke F-16s were the first jets to arrive at the F-35 Integrated Training Center at Eglin in January 2011. Thunderbolts were temporarily stationed on a rotating schedule to provide familiarization training to the 33rd Fighter Wing pilots from three branches of service prior to the arrival of the F-35 and to establish a “battle rhythm” for the 33rd flightline operations. While working side by side with other maintainers, crews became familiar with operations behind the training mission for the nation’s fifth generation fighter jet, a program now standing up at Luke for Air Force and international partner nation pilots. The mission training partnership continues today as Capt. Joshua Arki, former 62nd Fighter Squadron F-16 pilot, and the 56th FW’s first pilot to transition from the F-16 to the F-35 airframe, went TDY to the 33rd FW’s F-35 Integrated Training Center.

As we turn the page on the calendar and start a new year, I’d like to extend my sincerest thanks to all the Airmen of Team Luke for your hard work, dedication and sacrifice in 2013. Thank you for everything you do to get the mission done each and every day. I consider myself lucky to be part of such a great team.

We achieved some great successes and milestones this year. We also overcame some obstacles.

In June, we welcomed the 607th Air Control Squadron as part of the 56th Fighter Wing when it switched from Air Combat Command to Air Education and Training Command and realigned under the 56th Operations Group. The 607th trains air battle managers, weapons directors, surveillance technicians, interface control technicians and electronic protection technicians, preparing them for assignment to operational units worldwide. They also announced their presence in the wing with a first-place showing during our Wing Sports Day in November.

In July, we got the exciting news that Luke Air Force Base was selected as the location for three additional squadrons of F-35 aircraft, bringing the eventual total number of F-35s expected at Luke to 144. Many factors played into this decision, including the base’s infrastructure, access to the Barry M. Goldwater Range, as well as the great Arizona weather and Luke’s first-rate community support.

The Combined Unit Inspection scheduled for October didn’t go off as anticipated due to the government shutdown. Instead, we inspected ourselves, with the wing as a whole earning a very strong “Satisfactory,” but many individual units receiving an “Excellent.” The 56th Medical Group still had their external Health Services Inspection and impressed everyone with an “Outstanding.” Meanwhile, our maintenance group won their fourth consecutive AETC Daedalian Award as the best maintenance unit in the command for 2013. I’m very proud of our whole team.

In November we said goodbye to one of our longest-serving colleagues when Ms. Dorothy Rowe of the 56th Comptroller Squadron retired after a 70-year civil service career. We were honored that Acting Secretary of the Air Force Eric Fanning joined us to recognize Dorothy for her long and distinguished service.

Although some chapters were closed, others were opened, as the 61st Fighter Squadron reactivated here in October. The 61st FS “Top Dogs,” which traces its lineage to World War II, is Luke’s first F-35 squadron.

While we’ve enjoyed many successes, we have also overcome some challenges. Many of our civilian teammates were subjected to administrative furlough for six days in July and August, then again placed on emergency furlough during the government shutdown in October. Not only did this create financial hardship, it also came with plenty of stress and anxiety. Thanks for sticking with us during these tough times, for your resiliency and for everyone pulling together to get by in a tough situation.

In June we had a sobering reminder of how dangerous our mission can be when an F-16 crashed following a bird strike. Fortunately both pilots ejected safely. The jet, meanwhile, crashed into a field adjacent to base and did minimal damage to property. This accident underscores the serious nature of what we do here and the importance of exercises in which we practice our response to aircraft mishaps. It also highlights the importance of the mutual aid agreements we have with first responders from communities outside our gates. Support from our partners in the surrounding communities continues to be fantastic.

As I look ahead to 2014, we have many exciting things on the horizon, including the arrival of the first F-35 Lightning II within the next few weeks.

We’ll spend most of 2014 getting our local flying, maintenance and supply operations wrung out and up to speed and expect to start formal syllabus training for F-35 pilots in 2015. This will occur after construction of our Academic Training Center is complete. This state-of-the-art facility will house simulators, training devices and classrooms that will aid Luke in continuing its long history of training the world’s best fighter pilots.

In March we will stand up the 364th Fighter Group at Holloman AFB, N.M., with Col. Rodney Petithomme in command. We’ll temporarily deactivate the 309th FS here (waiting for more F-35s), while we reactivate the 311th FS at Holloman. Across the spring and summer we’ll move a squadron of F-16s to Holloman, where they will still be part of our wing. A good amount of Luke Airmen, particularly in the operations and maintenance groups, will get orders to Holloman. We’ll continue to work hard to give folks adequate notice and transition time.

Finally, I’d also like to focus our attention on the Open House and Air Show coming up March 15 and 16. This event is a fantastic way for us to build relationships with our neighbors off-base and showcase the pride and professionalism of our Airmen.

Thanks again for everything you do for Team Luke and the U.S. Air Force. I hope you have a great 2014!




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