KADENA AIR BASE, Japan -- Members of the 44th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron and 44th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit recently returned to KAB from a U.S. Central Command deployment at Prince Sultan Air Base, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Throughout their deployment, the Vampire Bats conducted daily flying sorties delivering air dominance in the USCENTCOM area of responsibility.
“Our mission is to provide air superiority, anywhere, anytime,” said Lt. Col. Ryan Corrigan, commander of the 44th Fighter Squadron. “The only thing that changed was our customer – instead of providing combat airpower in support of United States Indo-Pacific objectives, we supported USCENTCOM objectives.”
In order to support those objectives, maintainers worked around-the-clock ensuring aircraft were ready to deliver combat airpower anywhere lethality was needed.
“Our goals at PSAB remained the same as home station … We ensured our Airmen were the tip of the spear and provided the necessary avenues to cultivate lethal flexibility,” said Senior Master Sgt. Darrick Evans, 44th EFS superintendent. “We maintained a healthy and combat-ready fleet of F-15C fighter aircraft, which was made possible by a hardworking production team that executed more than 16,300 maintenance actions during the span of the deployment. The only difference was we re-vectored our targets to protect and defend near-peer threats in the Arabian Peninsula.”
Corrigan explained how his operational team’s focus also included taking care of the men and women of the 44th EFS and their families back on Okinawa, so Airmen could focus on the vital mission.
“The biggest takeaway from our time in CENTCOM is that if you empower Airmen and actively push the authority and responsibility down to the level of technical expertise, there is no limit to the amazing, ingenious and efficient successes they will produce,” Corrigan explained. “Our empowered team brought back integrated combat turns – a capability dormant for 17 years. This allowed us to rearm and refuel fighters rapidly and get them back to the CFACC (Combined Forces Air Component Commander) for combat tasking within 30 minutes of landing.”
According to Corrigan, the pilots quickly became proficient at non-traditional intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance as well as armed over watch – two mission sets not typically associated with the F-15C – while remaining the uncontested world leaders at counter air operations.
“Our Airmen coordinated F-15C operations from four different airfields throughout the area of operations, validating our agile combat employment capabilities and confirming the flexibility needed to master an ever-changing operational environment,” Corrigan stated.
For maintainers, one unique challenge was operating in a hybrid AOR organizational structure streamlined to meet unique mission requirements.
“The Expeditionary Maintenance Group was absorbed into the Expeditionary Operations Group and the EAMU was realigned under the fighter squadron,” Evans explained. “We learned the 44th EFS is capable of operating anywhere in the world with minimal support. Patience and flexibility is key when deploying; the ACE concept was tested and proven during this deployment and shows how our members are ready for any conflict and can deploy anywhere in the world at a moment’s notice.”
Evans continued by explaining how having a leadership team who seeks out input and communicates effectively is what made it a successful transition from the traditional structure of a combat wing organization.
“In addition to that restructuring, we made a lot of unique improvements to keep Airmen out of the extreme desert heat,” Evans said. “Being at a bare base poses other challenges that normally would have already been addressed at longstanding bases across the AOR, so we decided to be innovative and got creative with our solutions. We used a tent near the flight line and repurposed it as a break area, requisitioned an ice machine to keep coolers filled with cold water, purchased desert-specific clothing items and cooling towels, and even worked with contracting to get tent liner insulation to help regulate the heat for our day sleepers.”
These innovative solutions as well as intense mission focus led to the 44th EFS executing the first ACE operation. The squadron performed the first hot-pit refuel operation on a different airframe (F-15E Strike Eagle), launched a successful no-notice mission to secure combat air patrol for Air Force Central Command combatant commanders, accomplished integration with aircraft based in three nations, and safeguarded two troops-in-contact events.
“To improve our wartime capabilities, we focused our efforts on efficient movement and equipment requirements,” Evans said. “While at PSAB, the team revamped the F-15C integrated combat turn program for the first time in 17 years. This increased time on target 70 percent faster than normal turn-times. This capability allowed us to rapidly rearm and redeploy safely, efficiently, and effectively in more than 1,100 missions. The ICTs have become a benchmark for F-15Cs Air Force-wide.”
Above all things, the foundational goals and objectives were rooted around unity.
“We reflected and operated under one mantra: Family,” Evans stated. “It’s what kept us grounded, what keeps us pushing forward, and what makes the mission happen. We set out to learn a little about every member who was deployed. We set aside time every month to recognize our promoters, outstanding achievers, award winners … and time to just recognize the hard work and dedication it takes to make the mission happen in austere conditions.”
In addition to the extensive list of accomplishments above, both Evans and Corrigan reflected on this also being Kadena Air Base’s first deployment in eight years and the Department of Defense’s first large-force movement during the COVID-19 global pandemic.
“This team of outstanding members set the bar and reinvigorated PSAB after a 17-year absence,” Evans said. “The men and women of Team Kadena showcased their resiliency and collectively pooled their knowledge to create a comfortable work environment while continuously establishing healthy quality of life measures. I’m extremely proud of this team of outstanding warfighters and grateful to our families who supported us to do what makes us great. ‘Bats rule the night!’”
Corrigan echoed that enthusiasm.
“I am truly humbled by the manner in which the Vampire Bats conducted themselves during this deployment,” he explained. “They took the concept, ‘put people first,’ and turned it into over 788 combat sorties and over 4,800 combat hours, while upholding our legacy as Eagle drivers, and expanding our capabilities in support of the CFACC. We will bring all these capabilities back to Kadena with us, and use them to help build readiness, strengthen alliances and promote resiliency and leadership across the Wing. Above all, we’ll bring home a renewed sense of how important our families and friends are to us, how valuable our communities are to our fulfillment and well-being, and how fundamental our culture of taking care of one another is to our success and resilience. There is no doubt in my mind that the Vampire Bats rule the night!”