With F-35 here, Hill AFB’s reserve wing needs Airmen

HILL AIR FORCE BASE — Roughly 1,100 reservists work at Hill Air Force Base, but with the F-35 now firmly implanted, the 419th Fighter Wing is looking to add another couple of hundred.

When Hill accepted the first two combat-ready F-35As earlier this month, the era of the fifth-generation fighter jet officially began. By 2019, the base will house 72 Joint Strike Fighters, and all those jets — with their millions of lines of software code, $400,000 helmets and variety of futuristic, high-tech parts — mean there’s an immediate need for people who can fix them.

Col. Bryan Radliff, commander of the 419th, said he’s looking to add approximately 200 reservists to his squad by this time next year to draw up for the upcoming F-35 work. About half of those reservists will be full-time military employees, and the other half will serve in the traditional part-time reserve role.

“Basically, we’re asking our recruiters to go out there to high schools and colleges and really talk up the F-35,” Radliff said on Sept. 10. “This is the plane of the future, (so) we want to talk to the kids who like technology and help them use that passion to put them to work.”

Senior Master Sgt. Brandy Nietert-Corum, a recruiter stationed at Hill, said the technology Radliff speaks of is a major selling point recruiters use to bring talent on board.

The jet contains over 8 million lines of computer code, including advanced automation for sensors, voice recognition, and missile and threat management systems. Manufacturer Lockheed Martin says the plane’s “advanced electronic warfare” allows pilots to track enemies, jam radars and disrupt attacks like no other fighter before it.

Avionics in the plane provide battle space information that is always up-to-date. The F-35’s advanced stealth system allows pilots to fly into the most remote areas on the globe without being detected by radar. The Air Force has also said pilots will eventually control drones from the F-35 cockpit.

“It’s that gamer generation,” Nietert-Corum said. “They’re all interested in this (jet) — whether it’s flying it or fixing it.”

Radliff said one of the “untold secrets” of the 419th is the years of experience its members bring to the table. While younger Airmen are traditionally seen in the active-duty force, Radliff said about 60 percent of the reserve wing’s workforce has had prior military experience.

While experience cannot be discounted, Radliff said, those who work on the F-35 will be starting from scratch. 

“That experience is what allows us to serve in a part-time capacity,” the commander said, highlighting the minimum part-time reserve work requirement of one weekend per month and two weeks every year. “But with this new airplane, nobody has experience.”

As a result, all reservists who work on the F-35 will be put on full-time status for 18-24 months.

“That’s how it’s got to be with a new system,” Radliff said.

Without offering specific numbers, Nietert-Corum said recruiting for the F-35 has gone well so far. The Air Force has purchased ad space on billboards and buses in northern Utah and also spreads the word at high-profile events, such as the recent University of Utah vs. Utah State University football game in Salt Lake City.

“The F-35 is here and it’s going to be around for a long time,” she said. “We need people that want to be a part of the future.”

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