As I look back on the past 20 months as commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, I’m humbled by everything that this team has accomplished. I’d like to highlight a few of those successes and milestones, but first I want to start off with a heartfelt thank you to everyone at Team Luke for your hard work, dedication and service. I am incredibly honored to have served as your commander and hope I’ve been worthy of the trust you all placed in me.
I arrived at Luke in September 2012 with three focus areas: mission, leadership and community. I’m proud to say that I believe we have moved the ball forward in all three areas.
Team Luke has done a tremendous job executing our core mission of training fighter pilots, which has been our central charter since 1941. In the past two years, we have graduated more than 800 combat-ready viper drivers to the Combat Air Forces. These pilots have gone off to operational assignments around the world, including combat missions in Afghanistan.
Over the past two years we have also continued to excel at the other key element of our mission – deploying mission-ready warfighters – by deploying approximately 650 Airmen to 22 countries. Their service and sacrifice, and those of their families, have made a huge difference in U.S. operations everywhere from Southwest Asia to Africa, South America and many other parts of the world.
We have achieved several significant milestones in the past two years.
In July 2013 we received the great news that Luke Air Force Base had been selected as the training center for three additional squadrons of F-35 Lightning II fighter jets, bringing the total number of F-35s expected at the base to 144. I’m proud that we began flying the first local F-35 training sorties here last month. Seeing F-35s soar in the skies over Arizona culminates years of hard work by thousands of people in the military and local community.
Going forward, we’ll spend most of this year getting our local flying, maintenance and supply operations up to speed, and I expect we will start formal syllabus training for F-35 pilots in 2015.
I’m also proud of the work we did to pave the way for a successful transition to the F-35 by activating the 54th Fighter Group at Holloman AFB, New Mexico. Holloman is a great location for F-16 pilot training, and I’m confident that the Alamogordo community will be a terrific home for our Airmen and families who are moving there from Luke or other bases to support the F-16 mission.
My second focus area was leadership. If you recall, my intent is that the 56th Fighter Wing would be a leadership factory – we’d build leaders every day while we got the job done.
My hat’s off to all of you who helped us move forward on that front, and I believe we’ve made some great investments in our people – from small group discussions, mentoring as a “contact sport” where we give Airmen the feedback they actually need to hear, or just sharing our own scar tissue as experienced leaders with those who will follow. I’d also like to highlight Lightning Leadership, in which Airmen from across base gather to learn about techniques in a professional development program designed to promote leadership through a series of guided discussions. I’d especially like to thank our command chief, Chief Master Sgt. John Mazza, for his involvement in this fantastic program.
I’m proud of Team Luke for earning the 2013 Outstanding Unit Award, which is a testament to both the wing’s excellence in accomplishing the mission and to the superb leadership across our squadrons and groups that was the catalyst for that achievement.
My third focus area was community. First, I wanted us to focus on our sense of unit and pride in who we are as Airmen, that we take care of each other and our families and actively do our part to make our community stronger. We’ve done some of that in venues such as the Air Force Ball, the Spouses Dining-In and the Combat Dining In, but most of that has happened really down at the unit level. Over the past two years, we’ve also been able to strengthen our relationship with neighboring cities, business leaders and elected officials. Their support for the F-35 program was instrumental in the Air Force’s decision to base the jet here, which will ensure Luke’s longevity for decades to come.
I’d like to personally thank Fighter Country Partnership for their continuing support of our Airmen, our families and our mission. Their backing over the past two years has been phenomenal. At Luke we’re truly fortunate to enjoy community support that is second-to-none.
One way we were able to give back to the community was through Luke Days 2014, which was a tremendous success for the base and for our friends and neighbors outside the gates. We hosted a record-breaking crowd of 360,000 people on base that weekend, which gave us the opportunity to say “thank you” to Arizonans for everything they do to support Luke. It also gave us the opportunity to showcase the professionalism of our Airmen and the diversity of American airpower.
My wife Jenn, our boys and I will miss the Thunderbolts and the West Valley, and we will always consider Team Luke part of our family. Again, thank you so much for what you do to make this an outstanding wing each and every day. I salute you for your service to our country. Aim high!