April 22, 2008 (by 1st Lt. Joe Witt) - 22nd FS returned in February from a four month AEF deployment to Balad AB, in support of OIF. Since their return, the pilots of the Red Hot Fighter Squadron have been training and honing the skills required of an F-16 block 50 fighter pilot.
Lt. Col. Doug 'Stoli' Nikolai, 22nd FS commander, and CMSgt. Vance Clarke, 52nd FW command chief, prepare for a flight in F-16D block 50 #91-0474 from the 23rd FS on April 1st, 2008. The flight was part of a program to help senior leaders gain a better understanding of the base operations. [USAF photo by SrA. Logan Tuttle]
Over the past couple weeks however, The Big 22 has also provided several 52nd Fighter Wing leaders a glimpse into the day-to-day lives of members of the 52nd Operations Group. This familiarization program, initiated by former 52nd FW commander Col. Darryl Roberson and 52nd OG commander Col. Thomas Lawhead, was designed to give wing senior leadership the experience of a lifetime and to gain a better understanding of the daily operations of the 52 OG.
Senior leaders who have participated in this program thus far include Col. Lorrie Cappellino, 52nd Medical Group commander, Col. William Nadolski, 52nd Mission Support Group commander, Col. Darrell Mosley, 52nd Maintenance Group commander, Chief Master Sgt. Vance Clarke, 52nd FW Command Chief, and Chief Master Sgt. Mark Greatorex, 52nd OG Superintendent.
Colonel Cappellino and Chief Clarke received their opportunity March 31, 2008, to become more familiar with F-16 operations. Their day began early with a stop to see the airmen of the 52nd OSS Life Support shop for training on the F-16 cockpit, emergency procedures and parachute operations. After this two- to three-hour training session, it was time to visit Stinger Life Support for flight suit, harness, anti-g-suit and helmet fitting. This one-to-two-hour process left just enough time to grab a quick bite to eat before it was time to be back in the 22nd FS
for the flight's briefing and to meet up with their respective pilots they'd be flying with that day, Colonel Tom "Vulture" Lawhead and Lt. Col. Doug "Stoli" Nikolai, 22nd Fighter Squadron Commander.
During the almost two hour flight briefing, every aspect of the day's mission was discussed in detail to ensure the safe execution of the flight and that maximum training could be achieved. The briefing is also where Colonel Cappellino and Chief Clarke learned that the Big 22 did not pull any punches and scheduled him to experience a full-up, 4-ship air-to-air training mission.
Besides experiencing the typical day of a fighter pilot, this mission also gave Chief Clarke the chance to see the expertise and professionalism of the 52nd MXG maintainers. Their expertise and professionalism ruled the day as both familiarization flight aircraft took off on time with zero discrepancies.
Just over an hour after takeoff, Colonel Nikolai and Chief Clarke landed and taxied back to their parking spot where a group of Stingers met them at the jet. Before the flight, Chief Clarke said, "This flight was planned to provide a better understanding of the Ops side of the house and give me a chance to get out and see the hard work done by the enlisted troops of the 52 Ops and Mx Groups."
After the flight, it was clear that this intent was fulfilled by providing Colonel Cappellino and Chief Clarke the experience of a lifetime and a new appreciation of all the work and dedication it takes to execute the 52nd FW's primary combat mission. The airmen of the 52nd OG and the 22nd FS said they were happy to show Colonels Cappellino, Nadolski and Mosley, and Chiefs Clarke and Greatorex exactly what it takes to fulfill the mission of the Big 22
As members of the squadron often say, "We defend America by putting iron on target!"
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