01/04/09 — A year filled with change, valor marks '08 at SJAFB

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A year filled with change, valor marks '08 at SJAFB

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on January 4, 2009 2:00 AM

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Col. Steve Kwast, left, sits with incoming Fourth Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Kelly during the change of command ceremony in September -- one of the main events of 2008 at SJAFB.

Tears were shed on the flight line when airmen left for war -- then again months later when those same men and women touched back down at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base.

Awards were earned by squadrons and individuals -- some for courage and valor, others for excellence.

New faces were welcomed -- a war-tested fighter pilot to lead the 4th Fighter Wing, Korean nationals, NATO and a reborn active-duty unit attached to the 916th Air Refueling Wing.

There was even an air crew that saved England's Prince Harry -- a story that unfolded in Afghanistan's Helmand province and has since been told across this country and his.

Here is a second look at some of the moments that will likely define 2008 in Seymour Johnson lore.


* Wings Over Wayne grounded -- Base officials decided that due in part to the success of the 2007 air show, they would not host a Wings Over Wayne in 2008.

* 4FW receives F-15E trainers -- The Air Force's push to cut spending came home to Seymour Johnson, materializing in a state-of-the-art training facility for Strike Eagle air crews.

* Some airmen deploy, others return -- Nearly 1,000 people gathered along the Seymour Johnson tarmac one evening to welcome 300 members of the 336th Rocketeers back from Afghanistan. Smaller scenes unfolded throughout the month.


* 916th breaks ground -- The 916th Air Refueling Wing broke ground on a $23 million project that called for construction of three new buildings to support the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, the Reserve wing's incoming active-duty group.

* AWOL airman captured -- Airman 1st Class Darryl Green was charged with multiple offenses after being arrested in Georgia after 24 hours on the run.

* More airmen return -- Members of the 916th's Security Forces detail returned home after six month at war.

* Valentines from veterans to veterans -- Members of the 4th Fighter wing traveled to the VA Hospital in Durham to share Valentine's Day with some of their heroes.


* 4th Fighter Wing Security Forces Squadron honored -- The squadron was named one of the Air Force's 'Outstanding' units for its work at home and abroad.

* Saving WIDOW 67 -- A 4th Fighter Wing air crew talked about a particular mission in Afghanistan, the one where they -- with the help of their F-15E Strike Eagle -- unknowingly saved England's Prince Harry.

* 4th Fighter Wing crew chief prevents F-15E from exploding at Bagram -- Staff Sgt. Jonathan Billie, a member of the 335th Expeditionary Aircraft Maintenance Unit, averted a potential disaster when he extinguished flames in a Strike Eagle engine.


* 916th's active-duty unit reactivated -- Members of the 916th officially welcomed the 911th Air Refueling Squadron, an active-duty unit made up of more than 250 airmen and several new aircraft. Lt. Col. Bill Uptmor was named commander.


* Frieda Roos-Van Hessen and her 'great escape' -- The 93-year-old called her survival from the Holocaust "a miracle" when she told her story to members of Team Seymour.

* 335th and others return from war -- Several celebrations were had on the flight line when airmen returned from stints in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world. At one, hundreds turned out to welcome the 335th Fighter Squadron -- and its fleet -- back from Bagram.

* Airmen graduate -- Both 4th Fighter Wing and 916th Air Refueling Wing airmen were among graduates of Mount Olive College and Wayne Community College.


* 482nd reunion -- Some of the first airmen to set foot on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, members of the 482nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron, held a reunion at the base's Debden Park.

* Seymour hosts Starbase -- Many local children were given the chance, through the Starbase camp, to see just how the base functions and to learn about science, space and flight. They even got to launch their own rockets. But perhaps the biggest thrill for the children was taking in a performance by the 4th Fighter Wing's F-15E Strike Eagle Demonstration Team.


* Seymour Johnson master sergeant earns Bronze Star -- Tonya Westerman was given the award for watching over her airmen at Multi-National Transition Command in Iraq.

* 4th Operations Group commander stands down -- Col. Eric Nelson was replaced by Col. John Hruby at a ceremony on Seymour Johnson.

* From Singapore to Goldsboro -- Members of the 4th's 333rd Fighter Squadron begin training members of the Singapore Air Force on the F-15E Strike Eagle as part of a military contract associated with Singapore's purchase of its own F-15 fleet.

* Northrup says goodbye -- Col. Joseph Diana replaces Col. Alan Northrup as 4th Fighter Wing Maintenance Group commander. Northrup was reassigned to a NATO post.

* Seymour's Key Spouses honored -- Col. Steve Kwast pinned members of the Key Spouses program at a ceremony on base for their support of air power.

* F-15E Demo Team pilot honored -- Capt. Phil Smith was inducted into the Space Camp Hall of Fame at the Space Academy at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center.


* Bergeson reassigned -- When tragedy struck Elmendorf Air Force Base -- the death of Brig. Gen. Thomas Tinsley -- the man tapped to be 4th Fighter Wing Commander, Col. Thomas Bergeson, was reassigned there to take the late general's place. The colonel was at Seymour Johnson training on the F-15E when the order came down.

* New 4th commander named -- From an air base in Afghanistan, Col. Mark Kelly was offered command of the 4th Fighter Wing, a unit he served with as a member of the 333rd Fighter Squadron. He took the job and came to Seymour Johnson straight from the desert.


* Kwast says goodbye -- Col. Steve Kwast relinquished command of the 4th Fighter Wing, passing the flag to Col. Mark Kelly.

* Frink is welcomed -- Chief Master Sgt. Leroy Frink was assigned to Seymour Johnson, a base not far from his North Carolina hometown, and named 4th Fighter Wing command chief.

* POW/MIA ceremony held -- Members of Team Seymour honored those service members who were captured or went missing in action from early morning to late evening Sept. 19.


* 4th medics go smoke-free -- The 4th Fighter Wing's Medical Group adopted a smoke-free policy for all its facilities.

* Air crews return from Combat Archer -- Members of the 335th Fighter Squadron returned from Combat Archer, a training exercise that gives crews an opportunity to fire live rounds at drones.

* Little eaglet, big warrior -- Spencer Rollins, the son of a 4th Fighter Wing fighter pilot, returned home walking and talking only a few months after doctors said he might never do either again after the 2-year-old experienced complications from heart surgery.

* Seymour Johnson awarded $12 million -- President George W. Bush signed the Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act, sending $12 million to Seymour Johnson for construction of an energy-efficient consolidated service center.

* Firefighter charged in sex scheme -- Mark Floyd Farwell, a civilian member of the Seymour Johnson Fire Department, was charged in Florida with five counts of prohibited use of computer services and one count of traveling to meet a minor after allegedly showing up for an arranged sexual encounter with a woman and her 7-year-old daughter.


* AF Chief of Staff says F-15E still viable -- Gen. Norton Schwartz said Seymour Johnson airmen and their aircraft represent the best of the best and that he expects the Strike Eagle to last at least another decade.

* ACC gives 4th kudos -- A team of Air Combat Command inspectors gave the 4th Fighter Wing an 'Outstanding' on a unit compliance inspection held Nov. 2-7.

* Returning to the flight line -- Joe Lynch, a Korean War pilot, toured Seymour Johnson -- the first time the 80-year-old had been on a military installation since the war.


* Angels to fly, Knights to fall -- Seymour Johnson officials confirmed that the Navy's Blue Angels and Army's Golden Knights would be among the acts at the 2009 edition of Wings Over Wayne. The event has been scheduled for the weekend of April 25.

* Goldsboro to get VA clinic -- Secretary of Veterans Affairs Dr. James Peake announced that Goldsboro is among the cities getting an outpatient clinic for veterans. The facility is expected to be operational in 2010.

* Kids get gift of Christmas -- More than 150 base children were given a Christmas they might not otherwise have had thanks to those who pulled their wish lists off an Angel Tree. Outside the gates, airmen volunteered with several organizations, including the Salvation Army, to ensure needy families had a holiday to remember.

* 4th protects fleet -- Members of the 4th Fighter Wing erected shelters for some of the F-15Es in the wing's fleet.

* Orbit Comet -- Members of Team Seymour joined law enforcement officials from Goldsboro and Wayne County for Orbit Comet, an exercise that aims to prepare all the entities for disaster.

* More to deploy in 2009 -- 4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Mark Kelly tells airmen to hug their families a little tighter during the holidays, as deployments to both war theaters loom.