Air Force Reserve stands up first F-22 Raptor unit
By Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin, 920th Rescue Wing
/ Published October 27, 2007
ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Pacific Air Forces and Air Force Reserve Command embarked on a new journey together Aug. 8 with the arrival of six F-22 Raptors at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska.
The two commands are entering into an associate unit relationship to fly and maintain the Air Force's newest fighter. Under this arrangement, AFRC's brand-new 447th Fighter Group -- comprised of the 302nd Fighter Squadron, 477th Maintenance Squadron and 477th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron -- will be an associate unit to PACAF's 3rd Wing at Elmendorf.
"This is the beginning of a new chapter in the Air Force Reserve, flying the newest fighter in the Air Force and teaming up for the first F-22 permanent basing in PACAF," said Col. Eric Overturf, the 477th FG's first commander. "This is a chance for the Reserve to be relevant in the fighter world for the next 50 years."
Being involved with the F-22 so early in its lifespan is something Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, chief of Air Force Reserve and AFRC commander, said he would have never imagined three years ago.
"It is exciting to, at this point, have the Reserve invited to participate in this mission with Pacific Air Forces," General Bradley said. "I think the reason General Hester (Gen. Paul V. Hester, PACAF commander) and General Moseley (Gen. T. Michael Moseley, Air Force chief of staff) have asked us to be a part of this is our 76,000 Citizen Airmen have done so well the last few years in supporting our Air Force."
With the establishment of the 477th FG as an associate unit, the regular Air Force men and women of the 3rd WG are gaining a long-term partner.
"Airmen here at Elmendorf are no strangers to new aircraft or missions," said Col. Thomas Tinsley, 3rd WG commander. "These Arctic Airmen have been bedding down front-line fighters since 1941. The F-22 is the 13th fighter aircraft to call Alaska home.
"The major difference this time is we are teamed with our unrivaled wingmen in the Reserve. These professional Airmen will be integrated into every part of the F-22 operations and bring Total Force Integration to a new level."
"The proud Airmen of the 3rd Wing and 477th Fighter Group team are members of one Air Force sharing the same fight," Colonel Overturf said. "That means when you walk the flight line at Elmendorf, you will not be able to differentiate between Reservists and regular Air Force Airmen. You will witness a Total Force team, seamlessly integrated and working together to build the best air supremacy wing in the world."
General Bradley said that getting on board with the F-22 mission was one of his top priorities.
"This is the biggest deal in my term as chief of Air Force Reserve," he said. "We do a lot of important things for our Air Force. I hate to pick and choose. Everything we do is important; every Airman we have is important; every mission we do is important. But this is really going to be a high-visibility mission."
Maj. Brian Silkey, a 477th FG pilot, had the honor of representing the Reserve by flying in one of the first six aircraft.
"It's a great honor to be part of this historic event," Major Silkey said. "I feel very privileged that the 3rd Wing has included the Reserve on its team, and I look forward to being part of the team flying the F-22 up here. It's a great airplane."
In addition to having a Reserve pilot fly in one of the first six F-22s, Reserve refuelers accompanied the Raptors on their trip from Virginia to their new home. Members of the 514th Air Mobility Wing, McGuire AFB, N.J., and 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Ind., provided refueling support in KC-10 and KC-135 aircraft, respectively.
The 477th FG is part of the Reserve's 10th Air Force. Brig. Gen. Thomas R. Coon, 10th AF commander, was on hand for the Raptors' arrival. He pointed out the benefits that both the Reserve and regular Air Force gain from this association.
"From the active-duty perspective, what they are going to get is continuity over long periods of time," General Coon said. "Having that continuity and level of experience is very beneficial to the commanders.
"From the Reserve's perspective, we are in the process of a large reduction in our total fighter force, and there aren't going to be enough airplanes 15 to 20 years down the road to have all the units we have out there in the Guard, Air Force Reserve and active duty. So, we are going to have to associate in order to stay in the fighter business. This is a way we can stay relevant in all the different things the Air Force does, and it really is the way of the future."
With the formation of the new organization, the Reserve is keeping alive the heritage of two historic unit designations. Both the 477th FG and 302nd FS trace their history back to the fabled Tuskegee Airmen of World War II fame.
"I feel blessed to have the history of the Tuskegee Airmen to start my unit with," Colonel Overturf said.
(Sergeant Babin is a traditional Reservist assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing public affairs office at Patrick AFB, Fla. He wrote this story while on assignment at Elmendorf AFB.)