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F-16 Fighting Falcon News

Luke welcomes PACAF commander

February 4, 2011 (by Stephen Delgado and A1C Melanie Holochwost) - The 56th Fighter Wing was visited Jan. 27 to Tuesday by Pacific Air Forces commander, Gen. Gary North, whose 35 years in the Air Force would definitely fit the description of bigger than life.

Gen. Gary North, PACAF commander, poses for a photo in front of F-16D block 42 #90-0778 from the 310th FS which he flew when he shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 on December 27th, 1992. [USAF photo by SrA. Darlene Seltmann]

Gary North was commissioned in 1976 and his journey to becoming PACAF commander took him through numerous conflicts, including Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Operations Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. He has more than 4,500 flying hours, primarily in F-4, F-15 and F-16 aircraft and has flown in 83 combat missions.

His name became etched in history Dec. 27, 1992, when as part of Operation Southern Watch in Iraq he shot down an Iraqi MiG-25 that crossed below the 32nd parallel. This shoot down was the first by an F-16 Fighting Falcon in Air Force service and the first combat kill using the AIM-120 AMRAAM missile. He was a lieutenant colonel at the time.

During his nearly five-day stay, General North visited various squadrons and sections of Luke Air Force Base.

The primary purpose of his trip was to visit the squadrons that train foreign F-16 pilots for his theater of operations, according to Lt. Col. John Meiter, 56th FW director of staff.

General North spent significant time with the 425th and 21st fighter squadrons.

"He visited us because we are the Republic of Singapore Air Force squadron here at Luke and Singapore is in his area of responsibility," said Lt. Col. Mike Dean, 425th FS commander. "I briefed General North on the current status of the squadron. Lt. Col. SaySim Low, the RSAF senior ranking officer finished the brief and answered questions. During the briefing, we concentrated on our relationship with the RSAF and our cooperation with the squadron.

"We highlighted our accomplishments and emphasized the value of their training here. The feedback I received was that General North was impressed with the squadron."

What's more, General North signed the squadron history book and met the aircrews of both Air Forces, according to Colonel Dean.

"He graciously spoke of the relationship between Singapore and the United States and expanded on the tremendous accomplishments the RSAF has made in a short period of time," Colonel Dean said.

Add to that, Colonel Dean said that General North had the opportunity to visit with Kyle McGinnis, a crew chief he had worked with in a past assignment. Mr. McGinnis is a civilian worker at Luke.

"General North told us the story of his shoot down of the MiG-25, which happened to be three days prior to the opening of the 425th FS at Luke," Colonel Dean said.

His visit to the 21st FS included a myriad of activities.

"General North discussed the 21st FS training and received a full-mission briefing," said Lt. Col. William Bowman, 21st FS commander. "He urged the squadron to continue our good work and conducted a question and answer period. General North wanted to know our concerns. He gave us his thoughts on the security of the region since it is in his area of responsibility."

He also visited with U.S. instructor pilots and B-Course students.

One of the highlights of his visit was flying as part of a four-ship in the same F-16 in which he shot down the MiG-25. The flight was led by Capt. Derrick Vincent, 56th FW program flight trainer.

"Flying with General North, the first F-16 pilot to down a MiG by an AMRAAM, was a great honor," he said. "I was truly impressed by General North's airmanship and tactical knowledge. He performed well in the basic surface events and bested the rest of the flight in half of the events. He still retains his fighter pilot prowess and demonstrates why he is at the tip of the spear."

Moreover General North spoke to the Red River Valley Fighter Pilots Association, also known as the River Rats.

"General North's comments were an excellent insight into both the doctrine and execution at the highest levels of command, while the time spent with the River Rats was a priceless glimpse of Air Force history," said Maj. Kurt Kochendarfer, 69th FS assistant director of operations.

Education is important to General North, as he highlighted the need for professional military education and advanced education to Luke commanders.

Brig. Gen. J. D. Harris, 56th FW commander, said it was a pleasure to have the PACAF commander at Luke and have him get a first-hand view of what the base does.

"We're very appreciative that Gen. North would come out to Luke, see our mission and spend time with our Thunderbolts," General Harris said. "Many of our F-16 student pilots get stationed at PACAF bases. This visit gave some of the March B-Course graduates an opportunity to meet their future commander, while allowing him to see how Luke impacts the PACAF mission."

Courtesy of 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs