May 16, 2008 (by Elizabeth Jackman) - The mission of Luke AFB's 56th FW is to train the world's greatest F-16 pilots and maintainers, while deploying mission-ready warfighters, Vice Commander Col. Henry M. Reed III told the audience at the Glendale Chamber of Commerce's Power Luncheon last Wednesday.
"We have 7,000 men and women, active, reserve and civilians, working at Luke, with 27 squadrons operating 184 F-16s, the world's largest fighter wing," Reed said.
Last year, they trained more than 400 F-16 pilots, flying around 160 sorties each day and 35,000 for the year.
Days begin early for the pilots and crews, with the start of engines at 6:15 a.m. and the last landing at 11 p.m.
"All the while, we deploy combat ready airmen in support of the Global War on Terror, almost 400 last year to more than 15 locations," Reed said.
But they face another enemy, and that is aging weapons and infrastructure.
Reed said the average age of their F-16 fleet is 20 years, with more than 5,000 hours per plane and the average age of infrastructure is 31 years.
"There have been a few bright spots though," Reed said. "The completion of the $7 million Litchfield Overpass in January and the opening of Phase I of the new privatized housing and 5,000-square-foot community center."
He said that "change" is a constant at Luke and across the Air Force.
With the implementation of BRAC
(base realignment and closure) they will lose one squadron, 25 aircraft of block 25
They will also have significant leadership turnover during the next few months; Brig. Gen. Tom Jones is expected to leave in late June or early July and Chief Mitch Stippel to Ramstein in Germany mid-June.
While the 56th Fighter Wing's mission remains a priority, Reed said encroachment is still a concern, so they meet regularly with state, county and local government officials.
Recently, they completed input for a new Maguire study on the economic impact of Luke in Arizona, which they expect to release soon, estimating it will be close to $2 billion.
"Last year, Luke let $55.7 million in contracts on the base; over $42 million went to small businesses; $18.3 million to Arizona businesses; $3.2 million to Glendale business," Reed said.
Luke also contributes to the larger U.S. Air Force mission, he said, delivering sovereign options for the defense of the U.S. and its global interests n to fly and fight in air, space and cyberspace.
"Graduating students join the fight sometimes mere months after they leave Luke," Reed said. "This is the greatest Air Force ever; tougher, leaner, combat-hardened, but we are facing grave challenges n unlike any we've faced before. Our No. 1 priority is to win today's fight."
Airmen are deployed to more than 135 locations worldwide, with more than 27,000 airmen deployed in CENTCOM’s (Central Command) area of responsibility which includes Iraq and Afghanistan, fulfilling 524,000 deployments since Sept. 11.
"We have been over Iraq since 1991, no other service has been there longer or continuously," Reed said. "We fly over 300 combat sorties every day and night over Iraq and Afghanistan and 80,000 sorties in the past year, 1 million since 9/11. And we have flown 50,000 homeland defense sorties of the U.S. since 9/11."
Right now, there are 330 Luke airmen worldwide, with 227 deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan.
2As an Air Force, we are fighting with equipment woefully outdated, fighters that are 30-plus years old, air refueling tanks that are 40-plus years old and bombers that are 50-plus years old," Reed said. "Imagine fighting the Korean War with Sopwith Camels from World War I."
He said the Air Force’s No. 2 priority, after winning the GWOT, is to take care of their airmen.
"Luke airmen make sacrifices every day in defense of our great nation. Some are small from the hours we work to the separations we endure from loved ones," Reed said. "Some have been injured, such as Staff Sgt. Aime Hart, Staff Sgt. Matt Slaydon and Tech Sgt. Jerome Baker and some have paid the ultimate sacrifice n we remember with reverence Maj. Troy Gilbert, Master Sgt. Randy Gillespies and Lt. Dave Mitchell."
Despite the sacrifices, he said, Luke airmen are active and engaged in Valley communities as partners and volunteers, being recognized by WESTMARC for their volunteer efforts last year at the Best of the West awards.
"On behalf of Gen. Jones and myself, we appreciate our partnership with the City of Glendale and other cities in the Valley as we move forward together for the defense of our great nation," Reed said.