KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. --
Two of the United Stated Air Force’s components, active duty and Air National Guard, traditionally have similar national objectives while having different missions as they both work to defend the nation. However, at the 173rd Fighter Wing the addition of an active duty squadron means that these two components work side-by-side on the same mission—training fighter pilots.
Since November 2014, the 173rd FW has incorporated active duty Airmen into the fold of the Oregon Air National Guard through the Total Force Integration.
Originally titled as Detachment 2, 56th Operations Group, the group of active duty Airmen were officially designated as the 550th Fighter Squadron July 21, 2017.
“It has helped bridge the gap between active duty and guard,” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Burdi, a member of the 550th FS. “It brings the Air Force to work together as a whole.” Burdi works beside Air National Guard Airmen for the 114th Fighter Squadron as an aircrew flight equipment technician.
The TFI was initiated to boost Kingsley Field’s mission with additional Air Force Active Duty Airmen stationed at the Air National Guard base in order to increase the number of pilots trained by the 173rd FW, the sole F-15C formal school house for the United States Air Force.
Staff Sgt. Zach Hamilton, a guardsman who is also an AFE technician for the 114th FS, explained that the unit is only billeted for a certain number of Air National Guard manning positions, and the TFI has enabled them to gain additional manpower, which in turn has allowed the AFE shop to support the increased student pilot production.
The TFI has allowed the two components to share ideas and practices with each other and allows diversity in work areas that would otherwise not be present.
“It keeps us aware and helps us to avoid complacency,” said Hamilton. “We have programs that have been established for years, and when we have an (Active Duty) person come in it gives us a fresh perspective.”
One instructor pilot feels that this fosters and innovative approach to the mission.
“The TFI has brought a blend of thought processes together, where it doesn't matter if it was an Active Duty or Guard idea, if it works we use it,” said Lt. Col. Matthew Thomas, 550th FS director of operations.
From maintainers and support personnel, to F-15C instructor pilots; the fusion of Active Duty has embedded skilled Airmen in all facets of Kingsley’s training mission.
“The Guard brings a level of expertise to the mission that is unparalleled and cannot be matched by the active duty; however, Active Duty brings a recency into the mission,” said Thomas. “Giving our students exposure to the best instruction in world combined with what is happening in the Combat Air Force right now putting an emphasis on why they are doing what they are doing.”
Aside from the impact of the primary mission, the influence of the active duty incorporation has extended further than the 173rd FW’s student and instructor pilots.
“From an active duty stand point, coming to a guard base, there is a lot of stuff that you can learn,” Staff Sgt. Mitchell Nechamkin, an active duty aerospace propulsion technician for the 173rd Maintenance Group. “These guys have been working on these planes for so long, there is people here with over 20 years of experience. They know these planes inside and out.”
Additionally, TFI has enabled guard and active duty members to work together to become congruent in their practices across the Air Force.
“TFI gives us a unique chance to create a truly integrated unit,” said Thomas. “As you walk from shop to shop, or brief to brief there is no way to determine who is in what status. That has been a key component in the success of this TFI; one team one fight.”
As the ANG and Active Duty Air Force men and women of the 173rd FW continue their mission of being the foremost training wing in the Air Force, they also create valuable experiences and relationships the transfer on beyond the reaches of Kingsley Field.
“All TFI members of the base benefit from this,” said Thomas. “Some of the members from the 550th FS that have went back to the active duty as maintainers take that experience with them; becoming experts in their field as they start their next duty location.”
Both the city and the base welcomed the active duty upon their arrival several years ago, and now enough time has passed that some of the Airmen are beginning to PCS out of the area; Thomas says that when it’s his turn he’ll take many fond memories with him.
“Being welcomed into the Kingsley family has been one of the high points of my career,” said Thomas. “Seeing the ‘No-Slack’ orange almost everywhere in the town—it is amazing the level of support the base has. Many bases say they are a family, well, Team Kingsley has perfected it.”