The Changing of the Guard

Ten years after 9/11, what life is like in an Air National Guard unit.

Staff Sergeant Michelle Torrey, right, with Master Sergeant Brett Kitzman load an AIM-120 missile onto an F-16. (Ed Darack)
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We originally lived in 909, which was a hangar, during time on duty. Then we lived in two double-wide trailers for nine years. Now we have state-of-the-art crew quarters. When the horn goes off, all of the lights turn on in the building, the power is cut in the kitchen, the doors open, and everyone runs to their aircraft—pilots and crew.

—Master Sergeant Mark Bond, Crew Chief 

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

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

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.

About Ed Darack
Ed Darack

Ed Darack’s forthcoming book, Highest Valor (Smithsonian Books, 2017), covers the downing of Extortion 17, the deadliest helicopter crash in the history of U.S. special operations. The book grew out of his article in the Feb./Mar. 2015 issue.

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