10/21/07 — 9th Air Force commander stops at SJAFB

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9th Air Force commander stops at SJAFB

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 21, 2007 2:02 AM

Two weeks ago, Lt. Gen. Gary North was at a military base in the Middle East, shaking hands with members of the 4th Fighter Wing's 336th Fighter Squadron.

So when the 9th Air Force and U.S. Central Command Air Forces commander spoke to airmen at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base Friday, he told them their training was paying off -- that he had seen it firsthand.

"Everyone in Goldsboro and at Seymour Johnson knows that the F-15E and all the other components of the (4th Fighter Wing) deploy to the Middle East," he said. "The Rocketeers are there right now, fighting in Afghanistan, doing great things. The airmen in the Area of Responsibility (AOR), particularly the ones in F-15Es, are doing incredible work. That was my message."

North is no stranger to the Strike Eagle -- in his younger days, he commanded one.

But when the 335th Fighter Squadron "Chiefs" offered him a flight, it was still a great thrill, he said.

"As a young ROTC cadet, Seymour Johnson was the first real Air Force Base I had ever seen. The Chiefs were flying the F-4s," North said. "They were the first fighter squadron I had ever seen. It left a lasting impression."

So getting the chance to fly with them, knowing he will soon be deploying them to the AOR, was "an honor."

"To be able to go out as the Air Combat Commander, who employs and directs the deployment of the F-15E as a weapon, to be able to fly with the aircrews preparing to use it in the Middle East in the next rotation, gives me a huge amount of confidence in their ability to handle combat missions," North said. "It was a great experience."

The general also toured the base with Wing Commander Col. Steve Kwast and had the opportunity to pass along some advice to "some of the young airmen who might have not yet been deployed."

"I got to report on how we are doing in the war, how American airmen are overhead 24/7 with our airplanes and how important young airmen are in the fight," he said. "I told them, 'You know, when you're here in America training, you could miss a sortie -- you could not complete a training event. But when you're in a combat zone ... our airplanes have to be overhead on schedule.'"

And he told them he was confident that this new generation of warriors would uphold the legacy of the 4th Fighter Wing, the "best combat airmen our country has got."

"The forefathers of this wing are incredibly proud of the airmen who are continuing the heritage and tradition of the 4th Wing," North said. "To coin an old Air Force phrase, 'From our heritage to our horizons, the 4th Wing may be fourth, but they are first.' They are stronger than they have ever been."

North's final stop was at the Enlisted Club, where he met with members of the local Military Affairs Commission.

He said it was clear that the relationship between Seymour Johnson and the communities that surround it is "just as strong as ever."

"It's a longstanding relationship, one of the closest I have seen," North said. "I call it a love affair. How well this community has, now and throughout the history of the 4th Wing, looked after our airmen and their families, that's a real win/win."