October 3, 2007 (by MSgt. Chance C. Babin) - In a day centered on the unit's fabled heritage, with ties to the Tuskegee Airmen, the Air Force Reserve officially activated the first F-22 Raptor unit, the 477th Fighter Group on Tuesday.
TSgt. Paul Hennig, 477th Fighter Group F-22 crew chief, unveils the newly painted 302nd FS tail on Tuesday 2nd, 2007.
The activation formally gave the Reserve a valuable part of America's newest and most sophisticated weapons system.
"This is a most wonderful day for the Air Force Reserve Command because we have officially stood up our first F-22 associate squadron and its group," said Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, Air Force Reserve Command commander. "I'm really proud of this day. This will be something that our command will be proud of for 50, 60, 70 years I believe."
With several members of the Tuskegee Airmen on hand, the past was there to witness the future of fighter aviation, the 477th FG and the 302nd Fighter Squadron, which both have Tuskegee lineage. Having the Tuskegee Airmen present added to this momentous day.
"It's priceless, there's no other way to put it," General Bradley said. "This is their heritage; we're standing on their shoulders. We're very proud to have their name and heritage in our 477th Fighter Group and 302nd Fighter Squadron."
For Col. Eric Overturf, 477th FG commander, having the unit stood up means it's time to get to work.
"Now we can go from the planning phase to the execution phase, the group is officially stood up so we can start acting like a group and the first thing we're going to do is start flying airplanes, start fixing airplanes and make the mission happen," Colonel Overturf said.
Now that the 477th is officially stood up, the goal is to get down to business. One of the top priorities for the unit's leadership is to continue attracting highly qualified candidates to man the unit.
The 477th FG currently has approximately 35 people assigned to the unit. By the end of this fiscal year that number should be 163, with incremental rises the next four years bringing the groups total to 426 by fiscal 2012. Ultimately, the group is scheduled to have 160 air reserve technicians and 266 traditional reservists.
"Right now we're right where we want to be," Colonel Overturf said. "We've got a lot of great people that are applying for the mission."
Colonel Overturf said he is going to focus his efforts on filling the almost 270 traditional reservists positions. He knows it will be a challenge, but thinks bringing in quality individuals with high standards will bring in other like minded individuals, filling the unit the way he wants it.
One such person is Tech. Sgt. Jessica Hennig, who won the Thomas N. Barnes Most Outstanding Crew Chief in the U.S. Air Force award in 2004, back when she was on active duty.
Sergeant Hennig was a reservist at Langley Air Force Base, Va., when she began hearing about the 477th FG. The only problem was her husband was on active duty and she thought convincing him to join the Reserve would be a daunting task.
"When I heard about this unit, I kept working on my husband to switch over to the Reserve," she said. "Because I was already a reservist, I was able to show him how the Reserve worked.
"The Reserve command is a family. The feeling is not just about your job, but the people and the unit you work for. It's so cool that you can now be an F-22 crew chief in the Air Force Reserve."
So once she convinced her husband it would be a good move for the couple, the 477th FG not only gained a top-notch crew chief in her, they also gained their first fully qualified F-22 crew chief in her husband, Tech. Sgt. Paul Hennig.
"I took this job because it was a great opportunity and I love every minute of it," said Sergeant Paul Hennig. "I think the biggest thing I will take from this year from now will be standing up this unit. We're all so excited about it. My wife's here with me. We're a team."
Because the 477th FG is an associate unit with the 3rd Wing, having a strong work relationship with the active duty is integral to the unit's success.
"Our relationship with active duty is great," Sergeant Paul Hennig said. "Conversion training is totally integrated. We train active duty guys alongside reservists and it's the same for them. We're all one team here."
While the unit is leaps and bounds from where it started, they are still growing together and learning what it takes to start a unit from scratch. No one knows what birth of a new unit feels like more than Chief Master Sgt. Charles Shaw, who was one of the 477th's initial three members. Chief Shaw came to the 477th FG from AFRC
"Everything that you usually have at a unit wasn't here," Chief Shaw said. "We have to build programs that didn't exist. Everything you take for granted, you have to build. It's been a huge challenge and tremendous learning experience."
Chief Shaw said the Airmen the unit is getting are super and there are many more just like them applying.
"The guys we're bringing in don't just want to be the example, they want to set the standard," he said. "They are young and energetic and want to learn about the aircraft."
Lt. Col. Michael Wood, 477th FG deputy chief of maintenance, another of the original three to start the unit, said that while there were many challenges to starting from scratch, there are also some advantages.
"We're hiring exactly the kind of people we want with the future in mind," Colonel Wood said, " What that's done for us is show the 3rd Wing first hand the quality and character of the people we're bringing in and are going to bring to the fight."
For the Tuskegee Airmen on hand, having this new unit with the Air Force's newest fighter is an honor in itself.
"The highlight of this is the continuation of our legacy we started in the '40s," said retired Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Robert Ashby. "To have our unit flying the newest most sophisticated aircraft in the world and adopt the unit here is truly outstanding."