June 15, 2007 (by SSgt. Andrea Knudson) - Spangdahlem's runway closed today and is scheduled to remain closed for repairs until mid-July. Although the 52nd FW will cease flying operations from Spangdahlem, do not expect pilots and crews from the Wing to take a break.
Pilots from the 22nd FS taxi F-16 aircraft out to the runway June 11 in preparation for their flight to Nellis AFB.
All three fighter squadrons will deploy to other locations and continue to conduct training and other mission essential requirements.
According to Lt. Col. Scott "Skibo" Bowen, 52nd Operations Support Squadron commander, Spangdahlem's runway is being repaired due to deteriorating conditions that, if not repaired now, could lead to an unsafe runway in the near future.
"Along with repair of the runway, we are using this time to accomplish a number of other important repairs and improvements across the airfield that otherwise might not be accomplished for a while," Colonel Bowen said. "While the runway closure wasn't foreseen until late last year, the time will be well spent for airfield improvements."
The 22nd FS
will be deploying to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas and is scheduled to return to Spangdahlem in early August.
"While we are at Nellis, we will be working virtually every day, flying [more than 20 sorties a day]," said Lt. Col. Matt "Nuttman" Chesnutt, 22nd FS commander. "We [will] have several flying weekends and weapons academics every Sunday.
"Lt. Col. Geoff Maki, 22nd FS assistant director of operations and project officer, and Maj. Karamo Hayward, 22nd FS ADO and assistant project officer, along with Lt. Col. Bartz Sykes, 22nd FS DO, and Capt. Kristian Thiele, 22nd FS weapons officer, have put together the best training for Iraq
that is humanly possible, and we are going to take advantage of every opportunity to 'tune and focus' for our upcoming Air and Space Expeditionary Force so that we can bring everyone home and help the Army and Marines bring everyone home, too," Colonel Chesnutt said.
Colonel Chesnutt said that virtually all assigned and attached 22nd FS pilots and more than 245 maintenance and support personnel will be deploying and are scheduled to maintain a pretty hectic schedule with flying jets from Spangdahlem to Nellis, moving equipment and setting up facilities, supporting testing for the F-22, F-16 and F-15 while also supporting the weapons school and the Adversary Tactics Group. Additionally, the Big 2-2 will be flying in Green Flag West, the world's premier close air support exercise supporting the U.S. Army's National Training Center, and participating in Mohave Viper, a Marine Corps close air support exercise. In total, the fighter squadron will be dropping about 150 bombs, about half of which are live weapons.
The 23rd FS's upcoming plans include deploying several "Hawks" in the next year as well as re-locating to Buechel Air Base for the runway closure, about 20 miles from Spangdahlem.
"The 23rd FS, along with the 23rd Aircraft Maintenance Unit and many support agencies will deploy F-16s to Buechel where we will continue to train and prepare for our upcoming AEF
deployment," said Lt. Col. Steve "Pickle" Vlasak, 23rd FS commander. "While we will fly the jets from Buechel while our runway is closed, 52nd Fighter Wing personnel will travel to Buechel by bus each day to maintain and launch the aircraft." The "Hawks" from the 23rd FS will cut back their flying hours, which will allow Airmen more time with their families and will pose less of a burden when their deployments ramp up.
"Due to logistical constraints, we will fly less sorties at Buechel than we would normally fly at Spangdahlem," Colonel Vlasak said. "While this will hamper our flying upgrades and AEF preparation, the training limitations are balanced by less time TDY for our Airmen. Travel time to and from Buechel will make the days longer, but evenings and weekends will be spent at home with friends and family.
"The 23rd FS and 23rd AMU, along with the 22nd and 81st FSs will spend a lot of time deployed over the next 12 months, so this opportunity to stay at home while still accomplishing our training will help lessen the strain caused by our future deployments," said Colonel Vlasak. He also added that the German air force personnel at Buechel have been very accommodating and he, along with the 52nd Operations Group and wing leadership, greatly appreciate their efforts to make their deployment a success.
While the 52nd FW has made provisions to continue flying its fighter aircraft at other worldwide locations, the biggest impact will be the loss of Spangdahlem as one of Air Mobility Command's primary European hubs, Colonel Bowen said.
"The good news is that AMC was informed of this loss well in advance and has made the necessary adjustments," the colonel said. "Additionally, it should be noted that we have elected to conduct the runway repairs during the good-weather summer period ... first, to shorten the repair time with accommodating good weather, and, second, to minimize the loss of our Category II Instrument Landing System, a critical procedure that Spangdahlem possesses that allows AMC aircraft to land here at Spangdahlem in extremely poor weather."
The deploying squadrons and their crews will no doubt adapt to their temporary environments and take advantage of these great training opportunities; however, everyone is looking forward to returning to normal operations in the great Eifel region.