EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- In these uncertain times, day-to-day routines for people across the globe have been upended. There are many things that remain unclear yet even in the face of challenges like a runway closure amidst a global health pandemic, the Iceman Team perseveres.
The Wing closed the runway and flight line for routine maintenance July 8-16 sending the 356th Fighter Squadron and 18th Aggressor Squadron south to Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) in Anchorage to continue their flying mission.
More than 150 personnel uprooted operations from home station to support numerous F-35A Lightning IIs and F-16 Fighting Falcons.
Although just for a short time, the TDY to JBER was the first major movement for Eielson’s F-35As since arriving to interior Alaska back in April. The Aggressors on the other hand have had a lot of practice taking their flying operations away from home with three to four mobile training team TDYs in a typical year.
“The biggest goal for us was to execute this initial movement and take [Pacific Air Force’s] F-35s off station, forward deploy to another station and operate from there,” said Maj. David Hickle, the 356th FS assistant deputy of operations. Hickle currently flies the F-35A but is no stranger to the 354th Fighter Wing having spent three years flying as an Aggressor prior to switching airframes.
Exercising the big muscle movements involving aircraft, aircrew, maintainers and support personnel is an essential part of maintaining flexibility and strengthening unit cohesion; and the benefits ripple across the board, up and down the ranks.
“[This TDY] was a great learning experience and opportunity because it allowed us the opportunity to work with our entire team as one away from the comforts of home station,” said Airman 1st Class Cameron Rogers, a 354th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron F-35A avionics apprentice. “TDYs like this give us the chance to show the outstanding mission capabilities of our F-35 program.”
An essential part of the expanding airpower presence in Alaska is in the partnership between Eielson and JBER. Together, the two bases will be home to the highest concentration of fifth generation aircraft in the world. The only thing more impressive and integral to mission success is perhaps the enduring relationship among the Airmen.
“We know a lot of [the JBER personnel] just from phone calls and working closely over the years but we get a lot better interaction with folks just being face-to-face. It becomes a much more personal interaction and you get to really know the people that you’re going to be working with, training with and going to war with at some point,” Hickle explained. “That camaraderie and that tight-knit community is what you need in order to have effective, lethal fighting force.”
As Eielson’s mission expands, the demands will increase. The arrival of the first F-35As marked the beginning of a renewed combat-focused mindset for the wing. Every milestone since then, including training opportunities like the one at JBER, moves the wing forward along the path to building a more lethal force in the far north.