By Staff Sgt. Matthew Bruch, 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
For the first time since being established at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, the 414th Fighter Group led training operations during their Unit Training Assembly March 6, 2021.
In an effort to expand capabilities, the 414th FG, a subordinate unit to the 944th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona, successfully launched four F-15E Strike Eagle training sorties on Saturday of the UTA. The effort involved members of the 414th Maintenance Squadron, 307th Fighter Squadron, and the 4th Fighter Wing’s 336th Fighter Squadron.
“Weekend flying for our Total Force Integration team exercises strategic capacity germane to the association at Seymour Johnson,” said Col. Jason Reiss, 414th FG commander. “By leveraging reservists on Saturday, the 4th FW gains additional O&M [Operation and Maintenance] flying opportunities while simultaneously harnessing our Reserve experience to instruct aircrew and maintain Strike Eagles.”
The idea originated three months ago at the base gym in a conversation between Col. Reiss and Col. Kurt Helphinstine, 4th FW commander, during a morning workout.
“[Col Helphinstine] initiated the conversation by asking me what I thought about the group executing weekend flying,” said Reiss. “Based off the COAs [Courses of Action] the TFI maintenance and operation team presented, Col Helphinstine asked that we start weekend flying quarterly for the remainder of the fiscal year.
In a location where TFI between Reserve and Active Duty is essential to how the Air Force trains the next generation of fighter pilots and weapons systems officers, leadership recognized an area of opportunity for expanding individual unit capabilities.
“The 414th FG provides depth in both operations and maintenance that significantly contribute to 4th FW sortie generation, making us more lethal and ready,” said Helphinstine. “The active duty and Reserve relationship at Seymour Johnson AFB is unrivaled.”
Seeking opportunities to optimize training seems to be priority as members of the TFI team continue to look toward the future.
“If the active duty wing deploys for six months or a year, we still need to keep training pilots and weapons systems officers,” said Maj. Gabriel Gassie, a maintenance operations officer with the 414th MXS and F-15E instructor pilot with the 307th F S.
Gassie added, “If we can give the active duty some time off, this will also alleviate the strain of having to ask their personnel to work on our drill weekends.”
By doing this, the Reserve component, specifically the Airmen of the 414th MXS, will be responsible for all phases of launching, recovering, and regenerating the aircraft.
“This is a huge milestone for our guys,” said Maj. Michael McConnell, 414th MXS commander. “This is exercising our Reserve strategic capacity within the 4th Fighter Wing to generate, fly, and regenerate aircraft.”
The Reserve component did just that, launching four successful training sorties. In addition to a successful launch, the men and women of the 414th MXS were able to give the jets back to their active duty counterparts on Monday morning with all maintenance issues resolved and the jets cleared to fly.
Leading the effort on the maintenance side was Master Sgt. Jason Hochbrueckner, production superintendent with the 414th MXS.
“Everyone executed flawlessly,” said Hochbrueckner. “The jets did not cooperate, but that is the nature of the beast. This is what we train for, this is why we practice. Everyone executed to a ’T’.”
The 414th FG will continue TFI initiatives through next month’s UTA with their active duty counterparts. The development of the autonomous capability is one both organizations seek to grow. For now, they will continue to exercise this capability on a quarterly basis as they continue training and equipping the next generation of fighter pilots and weapons system officers of the U.S. Air Force.
“This is yet another example of how the TFI association is evolving at Seymour and demonstrates the synergies a well cultivated TFI relationship achieves for the Air Force,” concluded Reiss. “In the long term, flexing the Reserve muscle in this capacity postures Seymour uniquely to simultaneously conduct a future major combat operation while maintaining its formal training mission by leveraging the 414th’s strategic capacity.”