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Hill fighter squadron excels with Total Force Integration mission

by Staff Sgt. Matthew Rosine
Air Force Print News

10/12/2007 - HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah (AFPN)  -- Being the Air Force's first Total Force Integration fighter association, gives the phrase "one team, one fight" a whole new meaning for Hill Air Force Base's 388th and 419th Fighter Wings.

As of July this year, the wings entered Phase III of TFI. Now the 419th FW, a Reserve wing, no longer flies and maintains its own aircraft. Thanks to the integration, these Reserve Airmen now fly and maintain their F-16 Fighting Falcons side by side with their active duty partners in the 388th FW.

"It is a tremendous mixing bowl," said Col. Buck Sams, vice commander of the 419th FW. "There are a lot of gains that are coming out of TFI that no one ever expected."

The overall objective of TFI is to enhance war-fighting capability in everything from peacetime steady-state operations to wartime surge operations.

"We reservists bring the older more grizzled experience into the flight, but what active duty brings is the youth and excitement and the invigoration that for us old guys sometimes tends to wane from time to time," said Colonel Sams who is from Sylvester, Ga., and has 15 years of active duty experience. "It is a very interesting dynamic to grab their youthfulness and their excitement and mix in our experience. It really brings a certain element to the fight that a non-TFI unit would not be able to experience."

Of course during the infancy of the TFI association between the 388th and the 419th FWs there was a degree of nervous excitement.

"I think like everybody, the reservists were a little apprehensive -- kind of a fear of the unknown," said Lt. Col. Pat Wade, a traditional reservist from Boerne, Texas. Colonel Wade also has a full-time job as a contracted manager for the Tybrin Corporation in the local Hill AFB area. "What we knew (as reservists) was that we would be losing our aircraft and then somehow associate with the active duty and then fly their aircraft. So early on there was a lot of apprehension about the association and I think most of it was that we just didn't really know what was going on."

However, as the two fighter families have grown together over the past two years, they have discovered the benefits of working as one Air Force team.

"It is tough to argue with results," said Col. Todd Harmer, the vice commander of the 388th Fighter Wing. "You see success and I can't think of anything better to say than if you look at the 4th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron that is a little over half way through their deployment to Balad (Air Base, Iraq,) right now, we have regular AF pilots, Reserve pilots, regular maintainers and reserve maintainers doing exactly what the combatant commander needs them to do.

"That we are actually able to integrate and go down range and provide relevantly lethal and versatile airpower for the combatant commander, that is success," said the 1986 Air Force Academy Graduate.

Much of this combat lethality comes from the combat experience held by the Reserve pilots of the 466th Fighter Squadron. With an average flying time of more than 2,100 hours in the F-16 cockpit and with 82 percent of its pilots having combat experience, the TFI is having a positive effect on the entire unit.

"I flew with a reservist last night and we are looking at going to the desert here shortly and it will be my first time going on a deployment," said Capt. David Guenthner of the 421st Fighter Squadron from Laurel, Mont. "I was talking about it and he has already been five times. It is hard to find captains, majors or lieutenants around my same time period that have been to the desert more than once. So they give you an interesting perspective. They've got the experience. If you are doing something and you're doing it the way you think it's the correct way they can actually show up and tell you that that is never going to work in actual combat so it is nice to have that additional experience to make us better pilots along the way."

The teamwork, camaraderie and mentorship that this Total Force unit shares is making a difference for both the Air Force and the Airmen who live it every day, said unit members.

"I've been in about 18 years," said Tech. Sgt. Matthew Bennato, an Air Reserve Technician crew chief from Phoenix, Ariz. "I actually like working with the younger guys. I remember who my trainers were and how positive they were and that molded me as a young Airman, so I'm trying to extend that to them."

And it is having an effect. Airmen such as Senior Airman Theresa Waterfield, who are considering leaving active duty service, are excited about transitioning into the Air Force Reserve.

"I would love to (join a Reserve unit like this one,)" said the 388th FS weapons loader from Waterloo, Ind. "These guys are great. Their skills and dedication to work is really amazing. A lot of them are a lot of fun to work with. It is definitely a good squadron to work for."

And for the Air Force's first successful TFI fighter association, today's mission accomplishment also spells success for tomorrow's Air Force.

"I think we are demonstrating success on a daily basis," said Colonel Sams. "But there is never going to be an end-state to this. It is always going to change slightly. It is always going to continue to develop and mature itself. So we are always finding challenges and ways that we can become even more efficient so that we can continue the cost savings that we have already incurred so that our senior leaders can use that money to recapitalize the Air Force by buying new equipment such as the F-22 (Raptor) and the F-35 (Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter)."

"This is like building a house," Colonel Harmer said. "You have got to put the frame up, put the roof on and then you realize, holy cow, I forgot all about the wiring and the plumbing. We are getting to the point now where we have identified those issues and again we are going to come up with some common sense solutions that are good for the Total Force fighter wing and more importantly for the Total Force." 

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