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Saluting the past: new F-22 unit celebrates historic ties to Tuskegee Airmen.

With the activation of a new associate unit at Elmendorf Air Force Base, Alaska, Oct. 2, Air Force Reserve Command celebrated its future while saluting a famous part of its past.

Lt. Gen. John A. Bradley, AFRC commander, officiated a ceremony to activate the 477th Fighter Group, which is the command's first F-22 unit. On hand to help him celebrate the occasion were some of the original Tuskegee Airmen. The 477th FG, along 0with one of its subordinate units, the 302nd Fighter Squadron, traces its heritage back to the famous World War II unit.

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"This is a most wonderful day for Air Force Reserve Command because we have officially stood up our first F-22 associate squadron and its group," General Bradley said. "I'm really proud of this day. This will be something that our command will be proud of for 50, 60, 70 years, I believe."

General Bradley said having the Tuskegee Airmen present added to the historic occasion.

"It's priceless, there's no other way to put it," he said. "This is their heritage; we're standing on their shoulders. We're very proud to have their name and heritage in our 477th Fighter Group and 302nd Fighter Squadron."

Col. Eric Overturf. 477th FG commander, said standing up the unit, which flies and maintains the Air Force's newest, most technologically sophisticated aircraft, means the Reserve is going to be relevant in the fighter world for decades to come. It also means it's time for him and his people to get to work.

"Now we can go from the planning phase to the execution phase," Colonel Overturf said. "We can start acting like a group, and the first thing we're going to do is start flying airplanes, start fixing airplanes and start making the mission happen."

One of the commander's top priorities is recruiting highly qualified people. The 477th FG currently has approximately 35 people. By the end of fiscal year 2008, the colonel expects that number to increase to 163. By the end of fiscal 2012, plans call for a manning level of 426 people: 160 air reserve technicians and 266 traditional Reservists.

"Right now, we're right where we want to be," Colonel Overturf said. "We've got a lot of great people who are applying for the mission."

Colonel Overturf said hiring quality people will have a domino effect, allowing him to till the group the way he wants.

One such person who is already on board is Tech. Sgt. Jessica Hennig, who won the Thomas N. Barnes Most Outstanding Crew Chief in the U.S. Air Force Award in 2004, back when she was on active duly. Sergeant Hennig was a Reservist at Langley AFB, Va., when she began hearing about plans to establish the 477th FG. The problem was her husband was on active duty at the time, and she thought convincing him to join the Reserve would be a daunting task.

"When I heard about this unit, I kept working on my husband to switch over to the Reserve," she said. "Because I was already a Reservist, I was able to show him how the Reserve worked.

"The Reserve Command is a family. The feeling is not just about your job, but the people and the unit you work for. It's so cool that you can now be an F-22 crew chief in the Air Force Reserve."

Once Sergeant Hennig convinced her husband that joining the 477th FG would be a good move for the couple, the unit not only gained a top-notch crew chief but also its first fully qualified F-22 crew chief in her husband, Tech. Sgt. Paul Hennig.

"I took this job because it was a great opportunity, and I love every minute of it," Sergeant Paul Hennig said. "We're all so excited about (the unit's activation). My wife's here with me. We're a team."

Because the 477th FG is an associate unit with the 3rd Wing, having a strong working relationship with the regular Air Force is integral to the unit's success.

"Our relationship with active duty is great," Sergeant Paul Hennig said. "Conversion training is totally integrated. We train active-duty guys alongside Reservists, and it's the same for them. We're all one team here."

While the unit is leaps and bounds from where it started, it's still growing and learning what it takes to build something from scratch. No one knows about what that entails better than Chief Master Sgt. Charles Shaw, who was one of the 477th's first three members. Chief Shaw came to the 477th FG from AFRC headquarters at Robins AFB, Ga.

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"Everything you usually have at a unit wasn't here," Chief Shaw said. "We have to build programs that didn't exist. Everything you take for granted, you have to build. It's been a huge challenge and tremendous learning experience."

Chief Shaw said the Airmen the unit is getting arc super, and there are many more just like them applying for the organization's vacancies.

"The guys we're bringing in don't just want to be the example, they want to set the standard." he said. "They are young and energetic and want to learn about the aircraft."

Lt. Col. Michael Wood, 477th FG deputy chief of maintenance, another of the original three to start the unit, said that while there are many challenges to starting from scratch, there are also some advantages.

"We're hiring exactly the kind of people we want with the future in mind," Colonel Wood said, "What that's done for us is show the 3rd Wing first hand the quality and character of the people we're bringing in and are going to bring to the fight."

For the Tuskegee Airmen on hand, having this new unit with the Air Force's newest fighter is an honor in itself.

"The highlight of this is the continuation of our legacy we started in the '40s," said retired Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. Robert Ashby. "To have our unit flying the newest, most sophisticated aircraft in the world and adopt the unit here is truly outstanding."

(Sergeant Babin is a traditional Reservist assigned to the 920th Rescue Wing public affairs office at Patrick AFB. Fla. Me wrote this article while on a temporary duty assignment at Elmendorf.)

By Master Sgt. Chance C. Babin
COPYRIGHT 2007 Air Force Reserves
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Babin, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Dec 1, 2007
Words:1045
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