May 27, 2009 (by Justin Oakes & Lt Ryan DeCamp) - The 63rd Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit officially stood down at Luke Air Force Base May 22 after 68 years of service.
Members of the 63rd FS and Aircraft Maintenance Unit look on as retired German air force Lt. Gen. Peter Vogler speaks during the formal portion of the 63rd FS stand down and Cactus Starfighter Squadron realignment on May 22nd in Hangar 913.
The base has trained "Panther" F-16 pilots and maintainers since 1993.
Luke hosted a base-wide event honoring the 63rd FS
highlighting its legacy and tradition of work with the German air force and the Cactus Starfighter Squadron.
"This day is filled with mixed emotions," Col. Pete Schaub, 56th Operations Group commander, said. "On one hand we celebrate the continuation of a wonderful relationship between two air forces. On the other hand, we commemorate the successful and exciting history of the 63rd Panthers."
Colonel Schaub served as the ceremony's presiding official as Lt. Col. Jack Maixner, 63rd FS commander, stood down the Panthers.
Col. Schaub added that this does not signal the end of the Cactus Starfighter traditions.
"The strength of the association with Luke does not end with the flying mission," Colonel Schaub said. "It's also to be found in the community and personal relationships which were formed in the past and continue to this day. From their scholarships to their charitable donations, the Cactus Star Fighter Squadron is an important part of Luke's history and the West Valley's history.
"You'll be very happy to know that the Cactus Star Fighter Squadron Association of the 56th Fighter Wing will not end with the stand down of the 63rd. In fact, the association will continue to build upon its rich traditions."
Before the Panthers could stand down, one more matter remained - the realignment of the CSS.
The event took place during the ceremony and officially realigned the CSS with the "Top Hats" of the 310th Fighter Squadron.
"The Cactus Star Fighter Squadron is just as unique as its relationship to the 63rd," said retired German air force Lt. Gen. Peter Volger, former CSS commander.
General Volger said he is happy that the CSS and the 63rd FS could keep the personal nature they had between the two Air Forces all these years.
"We have enjoyed ever since, seeing young American fighter pilots raising stein and stories with their elder brethren," he said. "It brought great pleasure that our idea had been accepted to heart. I am deeply honored to be the person today passing on the CSS flag from the 63rd to the 310th."
The ceremony concluded with the furling of the guidon. When a squadron stands down or is deactivated, it is standard for the guidon -- a symbol and common rallying point of the squadron -- to lie retired in front of the troops.
After the formalities of the day, Thunderbolts rallied for one more celebration.
A four-ship flyover kicked off the beginning of the 63rd FS stand down block party. It included a live performance by the band Steal Wool, made up of a variety of fighter pilots on base. Attendees also enjoyed catered cuisine as well.
The celebration continued with the Panthers and Starfighters joining in a piano burning.
"Piano burning is an old fighter pilot tradition dating back to World War II times," said Capt. Nicholas Johnson, 63rd FS pilot.
After the piano turned to ash, the party continued leaving the men and women of Luke to visit and reflect on the German and American pilots that will forever be remembered as the Panthers.