4FW Commander: Stand down hurts
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on April 14, 2013 1:50 AM
It was supposed to be a weekend of celebration -- a several-day stint during which past and present members of the 4th Fighter Wing could share stories and time with each other as they marked the 25th anniversary of the aircraft that will forever bind them.
But when Air Combat Command's top officer announced Tuesday that nearly one-third of the fleet he oversees would be forced to stand down due to federal budget woes, Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's commander was forced to step away from an F-15E Strike Eagle reunion she and her staff have been planning for the better part of a year to address questions about her airmen's ability to carry out their mission now that the 336th Fighter Squadron has been grounded.
Col. Jeannie Leavitt talked at length Friday about just what it means to have to tell members of the "World Famous Rocketeers" that, for the remainder of the year, they won't be able to take flight -- that their training would take place in a classroom and a simulator instead of a cockpit.
"It's a big concern. We'll have reduced combat capability," she said. "You know, the mission of the 4th Fighter Wing is to deliver dominant Strike Eagle air power -- any time, any place. And very shortly, we will only have one of our two operational squadrons ... combat mission ready and worldwide deployable."
It had been widely speculated for the last several weeks that both the 336th and the 335th Chiefs would be hit hard when the Air Force reduced flying hours across the board to save money under the recent budget cuts forced upon them by the government-wide quagmire that began in March.
The remaining hours, it was said, would go toward ensuring that the wing's F-15E training squadrons, the 333rd Lancers and the 334th Eagles, remained fully functional.
In the end, only the 336th was grounded.
But even though the decision wasn't quite as bad as it could have been, Leavitt said losing even one squadron for the remainder of the year could have serious repercussions for the nation.
"There is definitely risk associated with not keeping all the fighter squadrons combat mission ready," she said.
And for the airmen hit the hardest by the news, there will be an adjustment period, their squadron commander, Lt. Col. Jim Howard said.
"Finding out that you've lost your ride is kind of disappointing," he said.
But he and those under his command are determined to do something positive with their time away from the skies.
Some will participate in Habitat for Humanity builds and other projects in the community, Howard said.
And others will coach their children's sports teams and spend more time at home.
"So there is that aspect where they can go and take advantage of that time now," he said. "That aspect of it actually sits well with guys -- having some time to take some leave and spend some time at home and take care of their families."
But nothing, Howard said, can fill the void each will have to live with until year's end.
And it's tough.
"I mean, they are here to fly," Howard said. "That's what we do."