Mile High Militia

Meet the members of the 120th Fighter Squadron, who protect the skies over Colorado.

(Ed Darack)

Ever since they were asked to patrol the skies over Colorado in the first few minutes after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the members of the 120th Fighter Squadron (the first federally recognized Air National Guard unit) have been flying a national security mission known as the Aerospace Control Alert. Meet some of the 120th’s members in the gallery below.

Staff Sergeant Joseph Wertz (pictured above) is currently a crew chief. He finished his degree in just a little over four years while serving in the Air Force—on full-time active-duty, including deployments. As soon as his active-duty commitment was completed, Wertz joined the Air National Guard, hoping to become a pilot. He finished school in January 2010; after taking the officer qualifying test, he was selected to fly F-16s with the 176th Fighter Squadron in the Wisconsin Air National Guard. He'll start training in 2012.


(Ed Darack)

Staff Sergeant Travis Tanner (pictured) is a crew chief for the 120th. Every shift has four crew chiefs and weapons personnel, says Master Sergeant Mark Bond. "We treat every scramble the same way: when the horn goes off, we treat it as a real-world situation, even if it's practice. There are no deviations, no slowing down, nothing. And our job is to get the airplane off as fast and as safely as possible."

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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