At a series of commander’s calls on March 21, Brig. Gen. Mike Rothstein, 56th Fighter Wing commander, discussed the recent open house, the new F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter mission, and gave Airmen his assessment of how things are going in the wing.
The March 15 and 16 open house was a tremendous success, he said, and the estimated attendance of 360,000 people easily shattered the previous record of 250,000.
“I could not be happier with how you all did,” he said. “It was a lot of hard work by a lot of people, and we did a great job of putting it on.”
The two-day open house and air show was the first in three years, since last year’s event was cancelled due to sequestration and budget constraints. Due to similar concerns this year, Luke was one of just three bases in Air Education and Training Command to have an open house in 2014.
The price tag in appropriated funds was approximately $285,000, Rothstein said. The event, however, returned about $250,000 back to the base in the form of nonappropriated funds, which subsidize 56th Force Support Squadron activities such as the library, hobby shop, Club Five Six, as well as the base pool – which the general said would be reopening this year.
Overall, the event was well worth it, Rothstein said.
“We got 360,000 people to be able to understand airpower,” he said. “More important, they had the opportunity to understand the great Airmen we’ve got, and to see their pride and professionalism. I think the return on investment was priceless.”
One of the big highlights of the open house was Luke Air Force Base’s first F-35 Lightning II, which arrived on March 10, and was available for the public to view as a static display on the ramp. The jet is the first of 144 F-35s – a total of six squadrons – that will eventually be assigned to the base.
“This is a big turning point for Luke,” the general said of the new F-35 mission. “This is a pivot. It’s not a sharp turn, but it’s a pivot that’s going to set the path for many years to come. Much like we’ve been flying F-16s at Luke for the last 30 years, I think we’ll be flying F-35s for at least that long as well. You’re here during that pivot, which I think is pretty cool.”
The base is expecting approximately 16 F-35s by the end of 2014, he said. There will also be F-35 partner nations and foreign military sales units training at Luke, similar to the two FMS F-16 squadrons currently at the base.
While F-35 flight operations will be starting soon, the next significant milestone will be when the base is ready to start training F-35 pilots, Rothstein said. An important step to be able to do that will be finishing construction of the Academic Training Center, which will house 12 high-tech F-35 simulators as well as briefing rooms and classrooms for instructors and students. The facility is on track to be completed in the fall of 2014.
“I hope by about this time next year, we will be formally training F-35 pilots, as we do in the F-16 now,” the general said.
Rothstein also gave Airmen his assessment of how the wing is meeting his expectations concerning mission, leadership and community – on the whole, very well, he said. He emphasized the importance of supervisors taking the time to mentor their Airmen and said the wing as a whole should reduce its tobacco usage, but he said that overall he was very pleased.
“Thank you for what you do for our nation,” he said. “Thank you for what you do for our Air Force and for this wing. I’m so proud and privileged to serve with you, to stand alongside you and to get the chance to lead you. I get to see the amazing things you do each and every day, and it fills my heart with pride.”