336th back in the sky
By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 16, 2013 1:46 PM
Three months after the Air Force stood down a third of its fighter jet fleet -- including Seymour Johnson Air Force Base's 336th Fighter Squadron -- the Rocketeers, and their comrades across Air Combat Command, were told they could, again, take to the skies.
The announcement was made possible thanks to $208 million of the $1.8 billion reprogramming allocation authorized by Congress -- money that reinstates critical training and test operations for the Combat Air Forces fleet for the remainder of fiscal year 2013.
ACC Commander Gen. Mike Hostage celebrated his ability to, again, ensure the combat readiness of his aviators, but said the action was only the first in many steps it would take to guarantee they remain equipped to defend their nation in the coming years.
"Returning to flying is an important first step, but what we have ahead of us is a measured climb to recovery," he said. "Our country counts on the U.S. Air Force to be there when needed -- in hours or days, not weeks or months. A fire department doesn't have time to 'spin up' when a fire breaks out, and we don't know where or when the next crisis will break out that will require an immediate Air Force response."
The stand down of the 336th marked the first time in the history of the 4th Fighter Wing that one of its squadrons was grounded due to budget woes.
And the news was met, by top brass on Seymour Johnson, with trepidation.
4th Commander Col. Jeannie Leavitt said, back in April, that the move was a "big concern" that significantly reduced the wing's combat capability.
"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," she said then.
And for the airmen hit the hardest by the news -- from 336th aviators to the men and women who ensure their fleet is fit to fly -- it was a morale blow.
336th Commander Lt. Col. Jim Howard said that "finding out that you've lost your ride is ... disappointing" -- that despite the fact that being grounded would offer more time for the members of his unit to volunteer in the community and spend quality time with loved ones, it was tough news to take.
"I mean, they are here to fly," Howard said in April. "That's what we do."
So now, more than two months after their last trip through the clouds, they are celebrating their ability to return to the mission they signed up to fulfill.
"The Rocketeers are excited to be back up and running," Howard said. "The stand down was not what any of the Rocketeers wanted, of course, but it was necessary due to sequestration. We have a significant hill to climb to get the squadron back to our previous readiness level, but the Rocketeers are anxious to get back to doing what we do best -- preparing and employing world famous Strike Eagle airmen and aircraft to execute the missions our country demands."