April 7, 2009 (by SrA Brandon Craig) - Col. Andrew R. "Hoops" Larson, Vice Commander of the 419th Fighter Wing, climbed down from an F-16 for the last time April 4.
Col. Andrew R. 'Hoops' Larson, Vice Commander of the 419th FW, anticipates a good soaking as he steps out of the F-16 cockpit during his 'fini' flight on April 4th, 2009. [USAF photo by SrA. Brandon Craig]
A cold breeze blew across the tarmac as family, friends and coworkers gathered to participate in a time-honored Air Force tradition. Crew chiefs scrambled across the flight line while others shook bottles of champagne in preparation. Four-hundred yards down the taxiway, the fire department set up two fire engines ready to hose down the F-16 Fighting Falcon as it taxied.
Meanwhile, family waited to welcome home their husband and father after his final flight as a member of the Air Force Reserve.
As Colonel Larson's boots touched the ground, fellow pilots held him down while his sister and son hosed him down with a high-pressure jet of water then doused him with champagne.
Colonel Larson, a native of Menno, S.D., and a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours in an F-16, has been a member of the 419th FW since 1997. He has served as the wing's vice commander since September 2008.
After graduating from South Dakota State University with a Bachelor's degree in mathematics, Colonel Larson received an ROTC commission in the active duty Air Force. He earned his wings after pilot training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, in 1985. Since then, he has also served as a fighter pilot, operation officer, and assistant flight commander.
"Hoops did bring a lot to this unit over the years," said Maj. Gen. R. Benjamin Bartlett, a former commander of Col. Larson and speaker at his retirement ceremony. "He served his country well and he served us well."
Colonel Larson has also served as Commander of the 466th Air Expeditionary Fighter Squadron on two separate occasions as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. A highly decorated Airman, Colonel Larson has been awarded the Legion of Merit, the Distinguished Flying Cross with Valor, a Bronze Star, and many other awards and decorations.
"Over the years, I've learned a lot about the mission and the people," said Colonel Larson, who added that those lessons started with his parents.
"To be successful in life you need to learn how to treat people and you have to work hard," he said. "When there are bumps in the road, if you remember to take care of your people and work hard, things will work out."