'Look over your shoulder'

  • Published
  • By Col. Joe McFall
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Commander
Sabers, Happy New Year! 

As we move boldly into 2016, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on your fantastic accomplishments of 2015. And trust me: there are a lot of them!

You may ask yourself, why call this commentary "Look over your shoulder"?  Let me explain.

Back in my pilot heydays, one of my favorite things to do was to give a non-aircrew Airman an incentive ride.  Depending on air traffic, weather and a few other cats and dogs, I always started the mission with a "quick climb" to altitude. 

In this maneuver, you pull the aircraft to near vertical, showcasing the high thrust-to-weight ratio of the mighty F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft.  At about 10,000 feet above the airfield, I would tell the incentive flyer to look over his or her shoulder...

In that attitude and at that altitude, you get a wonderful perspective of the base.  At the macro-level, you see all of the pieces and parts that allow us to accomplish all of the incredible things we do.  With that explanation out of the way, "Look over your shoulder" at all of the incredible things we did in 2015...

From a mission perspective, we fueled "Forward, Ready, Now" with airpower options to perfection.  In the Surety mission area, our team successfully passed three intensive Nuclear Surety Inspections, brought online two new critical systems and championed initiatives focused on improving the Nuclear Enterprise within U.S. Air Forces in Europe and the U.S. Air Force.

We deployed combat airpower with aplomb, sending our F-16s and associated support to eight separate locations on three continents in support of combatant commanders' objectives and particularly, Operation ATLANTIC RESOLVE.  This accomplishment is even more incredible, considering we did this while generating home-station sorties the entire time. 

In that same period, we deployed the 606th Air Control Squadron to three separate locations - an unprecedented achievement - in support of Operation INHERENT RESOLVE then quickly reconstituted them to pull off the largest ground convoy operation in the last 50 years.  If that wasn't enough, we simultaneously supported multiple areas of operations with agile combat support Airmen.

With just two weeks' notice, we postured the base to receive the first-ever Theater Support Package in Europe, hosting an A-10 Expeditionary Fighter Squadron of approximately 250 personnel and its associated equipment before forward deploying with them throughout Eastern Europe. 

That alone is pretty impressive; however you impressed even more when you did it two more times with two more expeditionary fighter squadrons, reassuring our NATO partners across the entire continent. 

By the way, we also hosted the first-ever F-22 Raptor training deployment to Europe!

Along with our 726th Air Mobility Squadron mission partners, we ensured a vital piece of the air bridge between the United States and both CENTCOM and AFRICOM while operating unabated for 24 hours a day, seven days a week despite competing priorities, Mother Nature and Murphy's Law.

Whether we were hosting training deployments at our Aviation Detachment sites in Poland, enabling U.S. Airborne Early Warning Crews to work with NATO, working hand-in-hand with our host nation counterparts at our munitions support squadron sites, training with and teaching European partners at our TSP sites or hosting partner nation events at Spangdahlem, we built partnership capacity at every level.

Our Airmen, whether active-duty, Total Force, civilian or family members, worked tirelessly to leave this place and themselves better than they found it.  The numerous individual and team awards we garnered at the MAJCOM and Headquarters Air Force-levels showcase this fact. 

Sadly, our year was not without tragedy as we said a painful goodbye to three of our active-duty Sabers, three civilian/contract employees and one of our DoDDS teachers.  Despite these sad and unexpected losses, this community rallied and ensured we helped those grieving the most and honored their service and lives as a close-knit family does.

Finally, despite the turbulence, our community grew stronger.  With the European Infrastructure Consolidation announcement, we learned that Spangdahlem Air Base will remain an active and valued member of the Eifel region for years to come. 

Moreover, our team crafted and championed an innovative plan that will bring our school age children back to the main installation.  This will allow us to divest the Bitburg Annex on a much accelerated timeline, saving both money and time, keeping our most precious cargo closer to home and honoring the wishes of our phenomenal local community partners.  

In fact, our community is so good, the year culminated with our choice as one of two finalists for the Commander in Chief's Installation Excellence Award!

So now that you have "looked over your shoulder," it is time to face front and focus on the year ahead.  Please know how proud I am of our wing, our base, our community, our mission and our people. 

It is a huge honor to serve with you, and thank you for everything you do!