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Pilot reaches 1,000 combat hours

February 23, 2008 (by SSgt. Mareshah Haynes) - 332nd Expeditionary Operations Group F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot, will reach two career milestones in a matter of weeks, one of which no other current Air Force fighter pilot has done until now.

Lt. Col. George Uribe, 332nd EOG pilot, is greeted and congratulated by Col. Steven Shepro, 332nd AEW vice commander, and Col. Charles Moore, 332nd EOG commander, after completing 1,000 combat flying hours as an F-16 pilot on February 17th, 2008 at Balad AB. Colonel Uribe is deployed from Tyndall AFB. [USAF photo by SrA. Julianne Showalter]

Lt. Col. Andy Uribe, 332 EOG deputy commander, racked up a career total of 1,000 combat flying hours while flying a mission on February 16th (in #86-0366), and is expected to reach 3,000 total flying hours in an F-16 by the end of the month.

Colonel Uribe will mark both of these milestones while deployed to Balad Air Base in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.

According to information extracted from the Aviation Resource Management and Military Personnel Data Systems, Colonel Uribe is the only current Air Force fighter pilot to log 1,000 combat flying hours.

"Achieving 1,000 combat flight hours in the F-16 Falcon is an awesome and unprecedented accomplishment," said Col. Charles Moore, 332 EOG commander. "However, what's most impressive and most important is the professionalism and expertise exhibited by 'Tater' [Colonel Uribe] while he was flying those missions. That's not just my opinion, that it is the viewpoint shared by everyone fortunate enough to fly a combat mission with him. That speaks volumes about the kind of warrior and aviator 'Tater' Uribe is."

Although an impressive accomplishment, reaching the 1,000 combat hour milestone wasn't a goal of the colonel's.

"It just kind of happened," Colonel Uribe said. "I didn't know it was going to happen until just recently. Obviously I really enjoy it and like to fly, just like every pilot. I just try to do the best I can on every mission I can."

The pilot, who is assigned to Tyndall Air Force Base, Fla., normally flies twice a week while deployed. Though he is currently serving a six-month deployment, his past deployments typically lasted four months. His combat missions last an average of five hours.

This is his eighth deployment to the Middle East. He has served in various operations to include Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, Provide Comfort and Operations Northern and Southern Watch. Colonel Uribe also flew combat missions in the Balkans during a two-year tour at Aviano Air Base, Italy.

The average fighter pilot will fly approximately 200 hours each year or 350 during deployment years, Colonel Uribe said.

"I think the difference is over my career I've had more operational assignments than a normal F-16 pilot. The reason I've had all those operational assignments is a combination of luck and timing," he said. "Normally guys will go to do tours as instructor pilots either at the F-16 pilot training unit or they'll go be an air liaison officer with the Army. A lot of the times they'll go out of the F-16 for a tour or two over their career. Other than a non-flying staff tour I had, I've been in the jet."

During the course of his 19-year career, he has spent 15 years actually flying. With so much time spent in the cockpit, Colonel Uribe has had his share of poignant combat experiences.

"Some of the events that stand out the most in my mind have been the first time I dropped bombs in combat; I remember the very first time I was a mission commander in combat, where I was responsible not only for my flight, but for the whole mission," Colonel Uribe said.

Colonel Uribe also experienced another reality of military operations. Feb. 15, 1994 -- exactly 14 years and one day before he reached 1,000 combat hours, he ejected from his F-16, something few pilots ever have to do.

"I was returning from a combat mission over Sarajevo and the aircraft (#89-2134) developed an engine problem," he said. "I did a flameout landing on a short runway in Slovenia but was unable to stop the jet and ejected as it departed the runway. I was 'detained' by the Slovenians for about three hours, then released.

"When everything was happening I really didn't have any emotions or fear, I was just doing what I had been trained to do. Only when I was sitting on the X-ray table at the hospital did I realize how serious the situation had been. Had all the equipment not functioned perfectly I would have been seriously injured or killed. Fortunately the Air Force was able to recover and repair the aircraft, and it's flying again today," he said.

Soon, he will have another career milestone to celebrate -- 3,000 total hours flown. Records and recognition, however, aren't what motivate him.

"Coming out here to [Balad] and flying in combat operations is the most fulfilling thing," Colonel Uribe said. "For example [while flying] the mission when I went over 1,000 hours, we were covering a Marine police unit that was under fire east of here. We dropped down and did a low altitude pass to make noise, to show to the bad guys were there with a visible and audible presence. The Marines said as soon as we did that, they stopped taking fire. It's very rewarding to know I helped those guys by stopping those incoming rounds," he said.

As he continues to fly, Colonel Uribe doesn't celebrate his accomplishment as his alone. He recognizes it as an organizational success story.

"I've taken the great training the Air Force has given me and put it to use well," he said. "But for every one of my 272 combat missions it took a great Air Force team to make it happen. This is more of a reflection on continued success as an organization than just on my part."

Courtesy of 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Additional images:

Lt. Col. George Uribe, 332nd EOG pilot, taxis into a hardened aircraft shelter at Balad AB after completing 1,000 combat flying hours as an F-16 pilot on February 17th, 2008. Colonel Uribe is deployed from Tyndall AFB. [USAF photo by SrA. Julianne Showalter]