EIELSON AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- The 354th Fighter Wing celebrated the arrival of its final F-35A Lightning II aircraft and the subsequent completion of its fleet with a ceremony May 13.
U.S. Air Force Gen. Ken Wilsbach, Pacific Air Forces (PACAF) commander, and Gen. (ret.) Gary North, Lockheed Martin vice president of customer requirements, attended along with several other military and local community leaders to commemorate the occasion. The arrival of the wing’s final jet April 15 marked the end of a two-year beddown process that yielded two operational fighter squadrons comprised of 54 permanently-assigned, combat-coded F-35A aircraft.
The arrival also finalized the wing’s transformation into a formidable fifth-generation fighter wing and cemented Alaska’s status as the most concentrated U.S. state for fifth-generation aircraft, achievements that would not have been possible without the dedication of the Airmen who have been assigned here through the years.
“From our Airmen to our amazing Group leadership to the Wing staff, thank you all for everything you've done to get us to this day,” said Col. David Berkland, 354th Fighter Wing commander. “Thank you to our partners from Lockheed and the amazing teammates they’ve been in getting these aircraft to us and ready to go. We did this 54 F-35 beddown at record speed despite a global pandemic as well as Arctic temperatures in order to bring the 354th Fighter Wing up to a full fifth-generation war-fighting posture, honoring our legacy of Valor in Combat. The Icemen have the iron, and we are ready.”
The arrival of the final jet also makes Alaska’s strategic location more apparent than ever before. Fighter jets departing from Eielson are able to reach anywhere in the northern hemisphere in one sortie. With the Joint Pacific Alaska Range Complex’s more than 75,000 square miles of airspace, the state also continues to be a premier training location for joint and allied forces.
“The task of standing up two new F-35 squadrons was not small,” said Wilsbach. “You made it look easy, but we know it was not. That’s because of the professionalism of the Airmen who work here at Eielson. The Icemen did a fabulous job of standing up this capability here, and the community around Eielson has also been incredibly supportive not only of our Icemen and our mission but this aircraft as well. We’re grateful in so many ways this mission has been so welcomed here.”
The ceremony was followed by a party co-hosted by the 354th FW and Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of F-35As, to thank the active duty Airmen, civilian employees, community leaders, and family members who contributed to the success of the beddown process.