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Media greets the F/A-22

October 26, 2005 (by Shad West) - Approximately 150 Airmen from the 27th Fighter Squadron of the 1st Fighter Wing from Langley AFB, Va. arrived at Hill AFB Saturday with the Air Force's newest fighter, the F/A-22 Raptor.

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There to mark their arrival was a stream of media including print and television journalists from Utah and Virginia.

The F/A-22 has received a lot of media attention, especially from the press in the Langley area, and the Airmen in the 27th Fighter Squadron have taken it all in stride.

"It was clear in my mind that dealing with the media was going to be part of the job," said Lt. Col. Wade Tolliver, director of operations for the fighter squadron. "The Raptor is an awesome platform, and everybody wants to come out and see it.

"They should," he added, "It's their airplane; their tax dollars paid for it and it's here to protect them."

Every step in the preparation process to achieve Initial Operational Capability with the aircraft has been in the public eye. The media has jumped at the opportunity to provide coverage of the new aircraft and its support operations.

"Even before we had planes on the ground, the program has been a huge media event," Colonel Tolliver said. The squadron has been very proactive in letting their community know what is going on with the Raptor.

"We've done a lot of orientation briefings for civic leaders, we've talked to the local community quite a bit, and we've gone out to the schools and Kiwanis clubs," he said. "It's truly a group effort and we try to get everyone involved in educating the public on the Raptor."

Having the ground crew involved in their media events has been a positive experience. One maintainer recently moved from the F-15 to the F/A-22.

"It took about a month for me to realize that dealing with the media was going to be a part of my job," he said. "The F-15 is a 30-year-old aircraft and doesn't generate this type of publicity. We had a new hangar built for us back home and the media was there to see it."

Media relations has been a new and fun aspect of the job.

"I've been in our base paper a couple times in the past month," he said. "When you see yourself on television — you kind of feel like a celebrity."

The Airmen deployed here were accompanied by Public Affairs staff from Air Combat Command and Langley AFB to help deal with the publicity.

"We've had to step up considerably because the public interest in this aircraft is extremely high," said 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs representative Staff Sgt. Thomas Doscher. "There is a lot of interest, and when people talk about Langley, they are talking about the Raptor. We want to make sure that when our people have to go in front of a camera, they are comfortable with that process."

Last Sunday, members of the 27th Fighter Squadron spent two hours on the 388th Fighter Wing's tarmac with a press corps representing ABC, CBS, FOX and NBC affiliates as well as print journalists from Virginia and Utah and the Air Force Times.

One F-22 crew chief summed up the experience with a smile. "You try to press on and go with it."

The 27th Fighter Squadron will be here for two weeks as part of the Air Force's effort to achieve initial operational capability with the aircraft by December, giving the deployed Airmen on each level of flight operations a thorough opportunity to practice their wartime capabilities in a foreign environment.

Republished with kind permission of Hilltop Times.

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