The Changing of the Guard
Ten years after 9/11, what life is like in an Air National Guard unit.
- By Ed Darack
- Photographs by Ed Darack
- Air & Space magazine, September 2011
(Page 2 of 4)
IT’S ABOUT SERVING
Domestically, we have taken on everything from the homeland defense mission to supporting the Democratic National Convention and the president’s numerous trips to town. We have supported Air Force Academy graduations and celebrations with protection and fly-bys. We have supported aerial flybys for every national military holiday, as well as [provided] support for the local sports teams [predominantly the Denver Broncos and Colorado Rockies flybys]. Last year I escorted Josephine Kater Robinson, a World War II WASP [member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots], as she received her Congressional Gold Medal. We speak at numerous schools and provide tours and support for the local community. The mission is not just one of flying jets and deploying in support of our country. It’s about serving.
—Major TenEyck LaTourrette, Assistant Weapons Officer
NOT A ROLLING STONE
Many people don’t realize there’s a difference between the Guard and active duty when it comes to hiring. On active duty, you’ll be moving to a different base every three years or so. In the Guard, you remain with the base that hired you.
There have been two significant changes to the Guard since the time I was hired 20 years ago. First, the Guard was transforming from a second-string reserve force with older, hand-me-down equipment to a first-string operational force using current-generation equipment. The second change was immediate: The day before 9/11, the typical Guard unit was one-third full-time force, two-thirds traditional, part-time Guardsmen. Now the typical unit is two-thirds full-time status and one-third part-time Guardsmen.
—Lieutenant Colonel Scott Van Beek, 140th Wing ACA Officer in Charge
WILDLIFE ON THE PROWL
A typical day as Wing Chief of Safety includes checking the Air Force Safety Automated System, which keeps track of reports and ongoing investigations. Usually I hear right away if there is an emergency on the Crash Net [the red phone that rings all over the base].
We are constantly working on BASH [bird/wildlife aircraft strike hazards]. We have the USDA working with us. BASH is a big issue Air Force-wide because birds damage so many airplanes, and this damage costs millions of dollars. We used to have prairie dogs running around and crossing the runways, and they would get hit by airplanes—we’d run over them. And then you have the raptors living in the trees swooping down to pick up dead and injured prairie dogs—and so the birds cause a strike problem for launching and landing aircraft.
In Sioux City, Iowa, there was a low-level flight over Nebraska, and a pelican hit the canopy of an F-16 and the pilot barely ejected. The cost was $26 million.
A lot of these issues you don’t think about as a pilot, but you need to have a clear runway. You can’t have prairie dogs racing across the runway and birds chasing after them when you’re launching F-16s and other military aircraft.
—Lieutenant Colonel Mitchell Neff, 140th Wing Chief of Safety
A few years back, southeastern Colorado was hit with a huge blizzard. Thousands of cows were stranded in the deep snow with no chance of ranchers reaching them. Colorado teamed with Wyoming, and C-130s were brought down from Cheyenne to air-drop hay for the cattle. The issue was locating the stranded herds. Our wing commander directed us to fly a four-ship [formation] that morning over southeastern Colorado and use our targeting pods and GPS to pinpoint the location of the stranded herds. We were able to locate almost every herd in an area the size of Vermont and get this data to the C-130 crews. They were a little skeptical at first until they arrived at the first set of coordinates and a large herd awaited the desperately needed hay. We affectionately called this event “Operation Moo.”
—Lieutenant Colonel Tim Conklin, Commander, 120th Fighter Squadron