Tuesday, March 30, 2010

New Reserve group stands up at Seymour Johnson

A new Air Force Reserve Command unit is standing up at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C., to support the growing mission for F-15E Strike Eagles, like the one shown here. The new unit, the 414th Fighter Group, will be fully staffed by September 2011. (Courtesy Boeing photo/Lance Cheung)

by Tech. Sgt. Tammie Moore, 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. (AFNS) -- To keep up with the increasing demand for F-15E Strike Eagle pilots and weapon systems officers, a new group is standing up here.

The Air Force Reserve Command's 414th Fighter Group may have only a handful of assigned personnel now, but about 340 people will fall under the group, the 307th Fighter Squadron or the 414th Maintenance Squadron, by September 2011.

"We currently have 21 people and are actively hiring aircrews, intelligence (people) and maintainers for our organization," said Lt. Col. Kevin Fesler, 307th FS Det. 3 commander and 4th Operations Group deputy commander. "All of the full-time personnel are stationed at Seymour Johnson. The part-time traditional reservists live within driving distance of the base to fulfill their drill period requirements."

The role of the new group is to help Seymour Johnson produce more qualified F-15E aircrews.

"The total force integration initiative was directed by the chief of staff of the Air Force and the secretary of the Air Force memo in 2007 to utilize AFRC aircrews to produce more F-15E aircrew graduates," Colonel Fesler said. "The success of the initial TFI plan was realized, and the 4th FW requested a Phase II expansion, which includes maintenance and intelligence personnel, with a plus-up of instructor aircrews also. All of these personnel will functionally integrate with the 4th FW and be leveraged to produce more world-class F-15E graduates."

The AFRC maintainers arriving to the new units are fully qualified with five-, seven- and nine-skill levels. They will work hand-in-hand with the base's active-duty Airmen.

"The 4th MXG will have operational direction over the maintenance personnel, which means they will decide their day-to-day duties," Colonel Fesler said. "The Air Force Reserve Command and Air Combat Command signed memorandums of agreement and understanding regarding the utilization of the personnel to maximize their experience within the 4th FW. The 414th FG will maintain administrative control for reporting, etc."

Many of the Airmen had prior active-duty Air Force experience before transferring to the Reserves. Senior Airman Bobby Kerr, a 307th FS crew chief, is one of the first reservists assigned to the unit.

"I had no learning curve coming here," he said. "I worked on the F-15 for four years at Langley (Air Force Base, Va.) before joining the Reserve."

Airman Kerr is a traditional reservist, so he will spend one weekend a month and two weeks a year working hand-in-hand with the base's active-duty crew chiefs to generate aircraft.

"I'm expected to carry my weight," he said. "I'm held to the same standards."

Although the active-duty and Reserve crews have meshed well, there have been challenges in establishing the new group on base.

"Any new venture meets the challenge of funding," Colonel Fesler said. "The Air Force as a whole has to fund each new initiative and prove the value over another great venture being pursued elsewhere; nothing is free. So, acquiring the required funding to bring in the manpower is a significant challenge."

Despite this fact, the colonel has found his involvement in the 414th FG standup a rewarding experience.

"(I've enjoyed) having the opportunity to be back in the F-15E community among the greatest warriors in the world and actively participating as a TFI organization that has grown from infancy to being on the cusp of becoming a fighter group," Colonel Fesler said. "It is also rewarding to offer personnel jobs and positions within our organization and watch those folks flourish as they are given increased responsibility."

Standing up the total force integration organization required Colonel Fesler to work with many people from various units across the base.

"The 4th FW has been tremendously receptive and supportive of the TFI initiatives here," he said. "TFI is a contentious subject across the Department of Defense and the Seymour Johnson expansion and association is seen as a success story, in no small part due to the vision of the leadership here."