More than 300 members of Team Holloman from the Tularosa Basin and the Sacramento Mountains gathered March 11 to witness the future of the 49th Wing as the 54th Fighter Group, a tenant unit of the 56th Fighter Wing, was officially welcomed to Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., in an activation ceremony.
Alamogordo Mayor Susie Galea, New Mexico senators Bill Burt and Ron Griggs, New Mexico Rep. Yvette Herrell, representatives from U.S. senators Tom Udall and Martin Heinrich’s offices and from U.S. Rep. Steve Pearce, Socorro County Commissioner Martha Salas, Brig. Gen. Joseph Harrington, 1st Armored Division deputy commanding general (Fort Bliss, Texas;) Brig. Gen. Andrew Salas, New Mexico National Guard Adjutant General; Brig. Gen. Juan Griego, New Mexico National Guard deputy adjutant General; and Brig. Gen. Michael Rothstein, 56th Fighter Wing commander; were in attendance at the event.
“To our elected officials and community leadership, thank you for all you do,” Rothstein said. “I firmly believe we cannot do our mission without your active support and engagement. Thank you for not only supporting the Air Force mission, but also for all you do to take care of individual Airmen and their families.”
The 56th Fighter Wing graduates more than 285 F-16 pilots and 350 crew chiefs annually, and with the addition of the 54th Fighter Group, Holloman will now be contributing to that already impressive number.
“This base is very important to Alamogordo, not only for the economic benefit, but this base is vital to our national defense,” Rothstein said. “The fact that the Air Force is moving F-16s here anticipates we are going to have an important mission here for the foreseeable future.”
With the activation of the 54th FG and its three squadrons – the 311th Fighter Squadron, the 54th Operations Support Squadron and the 54th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron – Holloman is fulfilling an important need for the 56th FW mission.
“The change in mission to the F-35A at Luke requires new construction in some of the existing F-16 Aircraft Maintenance Unit space,” said Lt. Col. Scott Frederick, 311th FS commander. “Once Luke receives up to 144 F-35s there would not be enough ramp space to continue both aircraft training missions at Luke AFB.”
The transition will bring approximately 800 Airmen that will help facilitate the growing mission at Holloman.
“We are so happy to be a part of Team Holloman, and we are very thankful for the unwavering support from the community here,” said Col. Rodney Petithomme, new 54th FG commander. “The Tularosa Basin will undoubtedly be a great fit for this new F-16 training mission, and we’re looking forward to a great partnership between the 49th Wing and the 54th Fighter Group.”
The 54th FG is a detachment of the 56th FW at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and will be a tenant unit at Holloman. This is the second time a unit has moved from Luke to Holloman. During the F-22 beddown in 2008, the 301st Fighter Squadron, an Air Force Reserve unit, formed a classic associate unit with the 7th and 8th fighter squadrons.
The 54th FG, which has been an inactive unit since early 1958, will continue the mission of the 56th Fighter Wing under Petithomme’s command. According to Rothstein, the 54th FG is a designation that has not been used in quite some time. Its lineage dates back 73 years, prior to our entry into World War II. It was first activated on Jan. 15, 1941, as the 54th Pursuit Group, coincidentally on the same day as the 56th FW and the 49th PG, which is now the 49th Wing.
“The addition of the 54th FG is an exciting opportunity for the members of Team Holloman, and will allow for combat air power to start here,” said Col. Andrew Croft, 49th Wing commander.
Holloman is also home to all aircrew training in the MQ-1B Predator and the MQ-9 Reaper remotely piloted aircraft.
Due to the existing facilities with the departure of the F-22s, Holloman was the logical choice for the F-16 training program. Holloman’s flexibility to support fighter aircraft is inherent due to the abundant air space, superb flying weather and strong ties with the communities.
“Today, we are welcoming our new F-16 friends to Alamogordo,” Galea said. “Holloman makes up 60 percent of the economy in Alamogordo, they’ve been here since World War II, and we are very excited to welcome the F-16.”