Change...get used to it!

  • Published
  • By Col. Rodney Petithomme
  • 56 Fighter Wing Det 1, commander
There is one thing you can always count on with life in the United States Air Force, and that's change. Changes can be incredibly big - like the options enacted in our current force reduction programs or the proposal the Chief of Staff of the Air Force is considering to eliminate entire fleets of aircraft. Changes can also be small with respect to the Air Force as a whole but have an enormous impact on your personally at the same time. For example, my youngest daughter just turned 15 and will be starting driver's education next month; this is a huge change for our family but hopefully a blip on the screen here at Holloman!

Holloman Air Force Base has experienced significant changes in the 25 years since I arrived as a fired-up, young second lieutenant in the summer of 1989. Back then we had three operational F-15 Eagle squadrons flying in the local area and training for combat that would come in the not-too-distant future. Who could know that in January of 1990 we would begin more than 21 years of flying combat air patrols in the skies over Iraq? When I arrived here in July 1989 we also had four AT-38 Talon squadrons training eager young fighter pilots like me who would fly, fight and win in combat two years later. The test track was then, as they are now, developing the weapons we would employ in combat, both in Iraq and Afghanistan. I'm sure there were also a number of missions on the base of which I was completely unaware. As a second lieutenant there's a lot that goes unnoticed...

Since that time, the change at Holloman has been constant and frequent. In the early 1990s the Air Force rebranded Lead In Fighter Training (LIFT as we knew it back then) as the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals (IFF). Although the mission of training young American fighter pilots has since moved from Holloman to other bases around the country, some of the AT-38s remained and we began training pilots form the Republic of Taiwan. Also during this time, the German Air Force moved its F-4 training from the desert of southern California to desert of southern New Mexico. They have since transitioned to the Tornado.

In June of 1992, the last F-15s departed Holloman and were replaced by three squadrons of Stealth Fighters, the battle tested F-177 Nighthawk (affectionately referred to as "Stinkbugs" by many of us). The F-117 called Holloman home for about 16 years, and in 2006 the Air Force announced that the first generation of Stealth Fighters would be replaced with the next: the F-22 Raptor. In October of 2009, Holloman gained another training mission as the 49th Wing stood up Remotely Piloted Aircraft training and became the second academic schoolhouse for both MQ-1 Predator and MQ-9 Reaper pilots and sensor operators. The winds of change at Holloman continued to rustle though, and the F-22 mission was, as we are all aware, short-lived. In the coming months the Raptors - as the AT-38s, F-15s and F-117s before them - will depart for other bases.

This summer, Holloman will yet again add to its legacy of education as the first of over 50 F-16 Fighting Falcon jets arrive and we begin training F-16 pilots. The change will be gradual at first, with aircraft arriving at a rate of about four per month until we have an entire squadron of 25 aircraft here by September 2014. One year later the second squadron will arrive, and by Oct. 1, 2015, the 54th Fighter Group will be complete! Five new squadrons in the next two years will make a significant positive and lasting impact on this base. It's a good thing the club's renovation is almost complete; all those young fighter pilots will be looking for a place to discuss the tricks of their new trade in detail. It's amazing how much learning is done after official hours in a club lounge.

Holloman has come full circle - like that young fighter pilot who arrived at the main gate with everything I had packed in my shiny silver 1978 Corvette so many years ago. Soon the next generation of fighter pilots will be driving through the gate - and we will welcome them to the fold.

Team Holloman, get ready!