HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah – A wing commander’s tour is generally two years. In that time the machinery of an Air Force wing can operate at a steady hum, marked with the sound of rapid gear changes and acceleration at regular intervals. The machinery is humming and gears have changed continually during Col. David Lyons’ tenure at the 388th Fighter Wing as he prepares to hand over command June 23.
“The wing’s accomplishments over the past two years have been just that, accomplishments of the wing; accomplishments of every man and woman in the 388th, not my accomplishments,” Lyons said.
The most visible accomplishment was successfully achieving F-35A Initial Operating Capability (IOC) in August 2016. The 34th Fighter Squadron and its 15 F-35s hurdled a series of technical challenges and scenario-driven evaluations of increasing complexity between September 2015, when the first F-35 arrived, and the threshold date of Aug. 1, 2016.
The end of capability (EOC) of the F-16 was a related, and similarly complex plan. Planning to absorb the new F-35 while decrementing the wing’s long-established expertise in flying and maintaining the F-16 required the management of iron, and more importantly, the controlled decline of a dedicated workforce of pilots and maintainers for whom the wing was home.
“IOC and the execution of the EOC plan required the wing to work at a high level of efficiency, with Airmen on both the maintenance and operations sides, willing to work long hours, train hard under less-than-ideal circumstances, and exercise their capabilities regularly under conditions that had not been tested before,” Lyons said. “This required the wing to continually concentrate on resiliency, morale, and the care of its enlisted force so that progress toward IOC did not take an unnecessary toll on the wing’s workforce. This, itself, was a significant accomplishment.”
Managing the resiliency of the force appears as an even more significant accomplishment when the wing’s operational achievements under Lyons are listed. As IOC and EOC were planned, the 421st Fighter Squadron moved downrange to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, to fulfill the last F-16 area of responsibility tasking in late 2015, through early 2016.
“The final F-16 AOR deployment, in support of Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, was also the largest deployment of Hill’s F-16s since Desert Storm, deploying 405 Airmen and 18 jets,” Lyons said. “This is an accomplishment everyone can be proud of.”
Earlier this year, the F-16s deployed to Spain for an extended temporary duty assignment, while also sending eight F-35s to the United Kingdom in a first deployment of that airframe post-IOC.
“The double-deployment tested the wing and required the expert management of maintenance and operations components,” Lyons said.
Behind these operational and organizational accomplishments were other achievements, including a successful Unit Evaluation Inspection (UEI) in September 2016, where the wing was rated highly effective for the category of executing the mission, and the first participation of the F-35 at RED FLAG, held at Nellis AFB, Nevada, where F-35s from the 34th Fighter Squadron performed flawlessly in scenarios designed to stretch their capabilities.
“This has been an amazing experience for my family and me at the 388th and Hill Air Force Base,” Lyons said. “It’s hard to leave but the people here will continue to accomplish great things because that’s what it’s all about: the people. Nothing gets done without great people and I thank you all for giving 100 percent every day.”