Friday, July 17, 2009

476th Fighter Group brings total-force integration to Flying Tigers

by Bo Joyner
Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

7/16/2009 - MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Thanks to Total Force Integration, Air Force Reservists are now helping put the bite into the shark teeth-sporting A-10s of the 23rd Fighter Group at Moody Air Force Base, Ga. The 23rd FG is the home of the world-famous Flying Tigers, and the group's A-10C Thunderbolt IIs are the only Air Force aircraft authorized to feature the unique nose art.

Now, for the first time in the nearly 70-year history of the 23rd FG, Air Force Reserve pilots, maintainers and medical specialists are working alongside their active-duty Flying Tiger counterparts on a daily basis. Air Force Reserve Command's 476th FG recently stood up as a classic associate unit linked to the 23rd FG. The 476th FG is home to the 76th Fighter Squadron, 476th Maintenance Squadron and 476th Aerospace Medicine Flight.

While the 476th has officially existed since February, the group conducted a formal activation ceremony July 11 at Moody presided over by Col. Mark Clemons, commander of the 442nd Fighter Wing, which serves as the group's higher headquarters. The 442nd, based at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo., oversees the 476th FG's administrative and mission-support needs not provided by Moody's host, active-duty wing.

The group works under its own command structure but integrates its operations with the 23rd Wing's 74th and 75th Fighter Squadrons and 23rd Maintenance Group. The Reservists bring a broad range of experience and provide continuity that increases the 23rd FG's overall operational capability. TFI is the Air Force's overall plan to capitalize on the strengths of both the active duty and Reserve by integrating regular and Reserve forces in day-to-day operations.

At Moody, TFI is quickly taking hold.

"We've come a long way since last spring when about four of us started building the 476th Fighter Group here," said Col. Greg Eckfeld, the 476th commander.

The group currently has approximately 115 people -- traditional Reservists, air reserve technicians and civilians. Eventually, the 476th will grow to about 230 traditional Reservists and full-timers, including 20 in the 76th FS, 160 in the 476th MXS and 23 in the medical flight. The remaining people will serve on the group staff.

"We've been focused on hiring, and we will continue to focus on hiring until we're fully manned," Colonel Eckfeld said. "We're bringing in qualified individuals with a lot of experience who are adding to the synergy we have going with the Flying Tigers."

Once hired, new members of the 476th FG are wasting no time blending in with their active-duty counterparts at Moody.

"We're integrated with the 23rd in training and operations, on the flight line, in the maintenance shops, and with the AEF (aerospace expeditionary force) rotations the Flying Tigers are going through," the colonel said. "We've already deployed two pilots for a 60-day rotation and have a crew chief deployed right now and another pilot and two more crew chiefs lined up to go."

"We'll be sending even more people in the next AEF cycle," said Chief Master Sgt. Stacy Walker, 476th MXS aircraft maintenance unit superintendent. "As our squadron grows, we'll be able to deploy more of our Reservists."

In the meantime, the Reservists helping maintain the A-10Cs at Moody are sharing their years of knowledge and experience with the Flying Tigers' active-duty maintainers.

"There are a lot of young active-duty troops here, and they lean heavily on us," Chief Walker said. "And their leadership encourages it. Our maintainers average 20 to 25 years of experience, so we have a lot to bring to the fight."

"The Reservists definitely bring a lot of experience and expertise with them," said Tech. Sgt. Travis Stroyick, a maintainer with the active-duty 23rd MXG. "When I have a master sergeant out there who's been working on A-10s for 20 years, I'm definitely going to use him to share his knowledge with my younger troops."

"From a flying standpoint, as the active-duty pilots come and go, having Reserve pilots here will give us a base of continuity to work from," said Capt. Brian Hatch, a Reserve pilot with the 76th FS. "Right now, we're the new ones, so we are relying heavily on the active duty to get us spun up. But, eventually, we'll be the ones counted on to provide the experience and continuity. In addition, we'll volunteer for deployments to lighten the load on the active-duty pilots so they don't have to go again and again. It takes a little bit of the burden off of them."

The 476th FG has reached initial operational capability status, and Colonel Eckfeld believes the group will be fully operational in a couple of years. He said the plan is for the group to launch and recover its first A-10 autonomously August 1.

They almost pulled that feat off during a modified flying operation in March.

"We recently recovered two cross-country jets, one piloted by a Reservist and the other by an active-duty member, where we relied on the active duty in a very limited manner," Chief Walker said. "We pulled it off primarily on our own."

The group reached another milestone during its March unit training assembly when the medical squadron conducted its first personal health assessments.

"The 476th Aerospace Medicine Flight is an extremely important part of our operation here, and it is almost fully manned," Colonel Eckfeld said.

In addition to several medical technician positions, the 476th AMDF includes flight surgeons, nurses and a dentist who monitor the group's medical readiness.

The colonel said the cooperation between the active duty and the Reserve has been phenomenal.

"We've received a very warm reception from the 23rd Fighter Group," he said.

"They're converting from the A- to the C-model, they had a UCI (unit compliance inspection) last summer, they have an ORI (operational readiness inspection) coming up in September, and they have AEF deployments on-going. Yet, they still have taken the time to aggressively work our integration. We're excited about being here at Moody and proud to be partners with the world-famous Flying Tigers."


Related info:
Tigers with new stripes -- AFRC activates new associate A-10 unit at Moody AFB
476th Fighter Group (AFRC) video clip released

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