08/15/07 — A new Tiger leads 916th

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A new Tiger leads 916th

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on August 15, 2007 1:45 PM

Fritz Linsenmeyer had no intention of becoming a pilot -- not as a young boy watching his father work on airplanes, not as a college man told to visit a Navy recruiter.

The colonel said he would have been satisfied working in a bank.

But when he took his father's advice and showed up at a recruiting office, a "no-show" guided him to a career in the skies.

"I went to see a Navy recruiter, but every time I showed up, the guy was out flying," Linsenmeyer said. "One day, as I was leaving, I was walking by the Air Force recruiting door and the recruiter was kind of standing in the hallway. He said, 'Can I help you?'"

At first, the then college junior said, "No," that he was looking for someone else.

But by the time he left the building, he was scheduled to take the Air Force Exam.

It wasn't a month later when he got the call.

"The recruiter called me and said, 'Well, you scored 95 on the pilot's exam. How would you like to be a pilot,'" Linsenmeyer said.

The thought had crossed his mind.

After all, his father, Stephen, was a Navy pilot and the two often took to the skies in the family's private plane.

But the 916th Air Refueling Wing's new commander will tell you that even then, he took flight for granted.

"I've been flying with my dad since I was a little kid -- we flew all the time," Linsenmeyer said. "So to me, flying, I don't want to say it was a natural extension, but that was just something we would do."

Shortly after his college graduation, the young man was on his way to becoming an airman.

He completed officer training and, later, got his wings -- first flying the T-37, then the T-38 and B-52.

Fast forward 25 years.

Linsenmeyer, now, has logged thousands of hours in the cockpit over Europe and other parts of globe.

He has been stationed at Edwards Air Force Base and the Pentagon.

Still, he calls his new assignment -- coming back to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base -- one of the most significant of his career.

"It's kind of a building-block approach," Linsenmeyer said. "You take gradual steps. I think I've been at this 25 years, building toward this opportunity."

The chance to lead the men and women of the 916th, reservists who volunteer their service, is an honor he will embrace every day.

"The great thing about the Reserves is that they are here because they want to be," he said.

Being a reservist today means more than it did years ago when he joined the Air Force, he added.

"If the balloon went up and it was World War III and we had to go help defend, let's say, Europe, we were trained and ready to go," Linsenmeyer said. "Today, I don't know how many mandates we do now, but it's an amazing amount -- four or five times more than we used to do."

In fact, more than 70 members of the wing's Security Forces Squadron deployed to Iraq his first day on the job.

"We're not talking about some vacation for the next six months," he said. "These guys are going to a war zone -- putting their lives on the line to make a difference in the life of somebody they don't even know."

So to honor the commitment of those under his command, Linsenmeyer said he will use his new post to be their champion -- to help ensure their families are OK, to encourage the community to support his airmen and women.

"I think it's important for the American people to understand that patriotism cuts both ways," he said. "It's a two-way street."

And he will wait proudly for their return, knowing that each is enthusiastic in his or her pursuit of a better world.

"Everybody wants to go out and do their job," he said. "I think they look forward to that opportunity to really put their training to good use and to make a difference. So I am proud."

And he is happy that his latest assignment brought him back to Goldsboro and Wayne County, an area he describes as "one of the most military-friendly" he has seen.

"That southern hospitality, it's not just a saying," the colonel said. "You see it every day."

Linsenmeyer and his wife, Judi, have two children, 17-year-old Gunther and 22-year-old Stephanie.