October 20, 2008 (by SSgt. Rhiannon Willard) - Happy Birthday 477th Fighter Group! It's been one year since the Air Force Reserve activated its first F-22A associate unit and the Arctic Reserve has already reached Initial Operational Capability.
Col. Eric Overturf, 477th FG commander, thanks his active-duty crew chief during WSEP at Tyndall AFB on August 27th, 2008. Reserve pilots from the 302nd FS and maintainers from the 477th AMXS teamed up with the 3rd Wing, Elmendorf AFB to create a Total Force team [USAF photo by Capt. Torri White]
"A year ago the 477th Fighter Group at Elmendorf didn't exist," said Col. Eric Overturf, 477th Fighter Group commander. "Its flag, along with its Tuskegee heritage, had been folded since 1947 when the 477th Composite Group was inactivated after World War II."
"The unit had five maintainers and two crew chiefs with no unit patch," Colonel Overturf remembers. "We were scattered around the base working in different offices and some without an office at all."
In June, before the 477th FG was activated, Senior Master Sgt. Scott Anderson, 477th Force Support Squadron superintendent, joined the 477th FG.
"Captain (Stephen) Lee, the Force Support Squadron commander, and I were the first ones in the temporary building, working on a picnic table with two laptops, standing up the mission support functions," said Sergeant Anderson. "It has been challenging, but even more rewarding to be part of a unit from the ground up."
On Oct. 1, 2007, the unit was officially activated at Elmendorf Air Force Base. The unit was created to leverage the traditional Reserve component strengths of experience, stability and continuity to support Elmendorf's mission of defending U.S. interests in the Pacific and around the world.
One month after activation the 477th FG made an immediate contribution to increased combat capability in Alaska when the F-15C Eagles were grounded because of fleet "airworthiness concerns." At that time the F-22s took the lead for the Alaska NORAD
Region alert. Two Reserve pilots flew the first F-22 alert mission to validate scramble procedures designed to turn back Russian bombers approaching North American airspace. Reserve maintainers later developed new alert procedures used to expedite the launches.
In March, the 477th FG Finance office became a self-sufficient Reserve pay center, a task completed much sooner than expected. In eight months they processed over 500 sets of orders and 331 travel vouchers. They continue to process military and travel pay for more than 155 Reservists.
"Our greatest challenge was to learn the way the Air Force Reserve handles finance issues from the ground up. We had to do this 1,400 miles from the nearest Reserve unit and four time zones away from Air Force Reserve Command," explains Rich Miller, 477th FG Budget Analyst, who started with the unit in May 2007.
The 477th Civil Engineer Squadron deployed to Northwest Field, Anderson Air Force Base, Guam, for their annual tour in April to support PACAF
's top-priority airfield construction project. Next year the same civil engineer squadron will deploy to the US Central Command area of responsibility. This will be the first contingency deployment for the unit since World War II.
In the operations world, 477th FG pilots and maintainers participated in Elmendorf's first F-22 Red Flag and Northern Edge exercise in spring 2008. The 477th FG also deployed to Guam with the 80th Fighter Squadron for Operation Jungle Shield in July.
"These exercises showcased the prowess of the Raptor to our joint and coalition partners while providing critical combat scenario experience for our young Raptor pilots," Colonel Overturf said. "Operation Jungle Shield validated Elmendorf's F-22 Initial Operational Capability and validated air-to-ground and J-series weapons capabilities."
In other Total Force successes, a Reserve maintainer served as the team chief on the winning team in the base's first joint F-22 and F-15 weapons load competition. Reserve pilots served as project officers for Elmendorf's first F-22 Weapon System Evaluation Program deployment and Team Elmendorf's IOC Celebration. The 477th FG personnel supported two Weapons System Evaluation Program Combat Archer deployments with pilots, crew chiefs, avionics, armament, ammo and low observable repair Airmen.
While Reserve Airmen were busy flying and maintaining the F-22 Raptor, mission support personnel started up other necessary functions for the successful standup of the Associate Reserve unit.
By September, the 477th Aerospace Medical Flight accomplished 21 physical health assessment, 11 drug tests, 20 dental exams, and countless immunizations, HIV Tests and record reviews.
Air Force Reserve Recruiters aggressively filled more than 94 percent of the 2008 manning allotments in an extremely difficult recruiting market. In 2012, when the unit is scheduled to be fully staffed, the 477th FG will employ 425 Airmen: pilots, maintainers, civil engineers, medics, and mission support personnel. Sixty six percent of those Airmen will be traditional Reservists, serving a minimum of one drill weekend per month and 14 days of annual tour per year while balancing their commitments to their civilian jobs and families.
"We are growing stronger every day and contributing more and more to the Total Force Team at Elmendorf," said Colonel Overturf. "This one year milestone gives us a chance to recognize all the outstanding Arctic Reservists who enabled us to successfully accomplish our mission: to recruit, train, develop and retain combat ready Citizen Airmen to support the 3rd Wing and the Expeditionary Air Force."