October 17, 2005 (by 1st Lt. Elizabeth Kreft) - The Raptors are leaving the nest for their first deployment.
Nearly 170 Airmen left here Oct. 15 on a two-week deployment to Hill Air Force Base, Utah. This may sound like a run-of-the-mill temporary duty assignment. But for the Langley Airmen, it is far from a typical out-of-town operation.
It is the maiden deployment for the new F/A-22 aircraft.
Airmen from the 27th Fighter Squadron and other base units went to Hill with two significant goals on their to-do list: complete the first Raptor deployment and generate a combat-effective sortie rate away from home.
"We are eager to take this airplane on the road and practice our overall abilities with it," said Lt. Col. Jim Hecker, the squadron commander. "It's an important training opportunity for our Raptor team, but it's also an event steeped in historic value."
The trip provides practice demonstrating competence and ability to deploy to a foreign location. Though Salt Lake City clearly is not as unfamiliar as an overseas desert, it still provides an appropriate training ground for both maintainers and pilots.
"This will be our opportunity to validate sortie generation and hone our capabilities as a war-ready squadron," said Capt. James Jernigan, 27th Aircraft Maintenance Unit chief.
The deployment also marks the first time an air-to-ground mission returns to the 1st Fighter Wing since the late 1970s.
"World War II was the last time any planes or pilots from Langley bombed anything in a wartime scenario," said Tech. Sgt. John Deshetler, wing historian. "During training attack missions in the 1970s, pilots here practiced dropping bombs, but it never developed into a wartime mission."
At a predeployment briefing, the squadron project officer offered a quick reality check for some of the team who might be nervous about accomplishing the task at hand.
"Don't forget, you were all hand picked to be here," said Maj. Charles Corcoran, the squadron assistant director of operations. "This is our show, and this is our chance to prove to everyone from the bottom on up that we are ready to go to combat."
Colonel Hecker echoed those sentiments, and added a reminder.
"We're all fortunate to be in the right place at the right time to contribute to this effort," he said. "But I want each person to remember those who've worked on this before us and be humble about the fact that we get to be here."
In fact, this is a mission more than 25 years in the making.
"Thousands of people have spent thousands of hours preparing this aircraft for mission-ready status," Colonel Hecker said. "Our job now is to use this training opportunity to the fullest and continue on the path to bringing this air-dominance vision to fruition."