PRINCE SULTAN AIR BASE, SAUDI ARABIA –
In line with the new Air Force Force Generation, or AFFORGEN model, the 20th Fighter Wing has accelerated its force generation approach, sustained readiness and delivered three major aviation deployments in calendar year 2022.
Including back-to-back deployments to Prince Sultan Air Base, the 77th “Gamblers” and 79th “Tigers”, have demonstrated Team Shaw’s capability to supply sustainable force offerings of Airmen and airpower to the Joint Force.
“In October when the Gamblers tagged the Tigers out, there was a large presence of Shaw’s Airmen and combat-coded F-16s on this base which is pretty incredible,” said Maj. Jessica Watts, the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Generation Squadron commander. “Every Airmen spent months preparing to get here, but for each of us on the ground, there are 10 more back at Shaw who played a critical role in getting us out of town. Deploying our Mission Generation Force Element (MGFE) was the focus of the entire Wing and that effort paid dividends.”
After just 18 months, the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, 77th Expeditionary Fighter Generation Squadron “Gamblers”, and an additional team of Airmen assigned to Shaw Air Force Base’s maintenance squadron, have returned to PSAB to support operations within the U.S. Central Command area of responsibility.
“I think we’ve adapted so quickly to deployed operations because I have so many PSAB veterans,” Watts said. “Combat ops are different than home station ops; the margin for error is smaller, and the pace is faster. We are fortunate to have Airmen here who learned those lessons 18 months ago who are bringing the rest of the team under their wings to elevate our adaptability, agility and lethality.”
The 77th EFGS is responsible for the launch, recovery and overall maintenance for every F-16 Fighting Falcon aircraft, while assigned to PSAB. With a dedicated team of maintainers and administrative Airmen, the 77th EFGS ensures 77th EFS pilots have safe and combat ready aircraft.
“We have a lot of new Airmen, and we’ve looked to them to perform at their best to meet air tasking orders,” said Capt. Matthew Izumi, a 77th EFGS maintenance officer. “Some sweat and tears were shed in the first few weeks to make it happen, but we have supplied an aircraft for every ATO line since we took over from the Tigers and we have found our stride.”
Generating a deployment for an F-16 squadron to project combat airpower across the CENTCOM theater, is an immense strategic undertaking, requiring manpower and logistical support. Maintaining those F-16s, and ensuring they are ready to carry out mission objectives once they’ve arrived in their deployed AOR, presents other challenges that require the expertise of Airmen assigned to several Air Force specialties.
As a dedicated crew chief with the 77th EFGS, Senior Airman Colton McMicken notes that he is responsible for the daily inspection and general maintenance for all components of the F-16 he is assigned to.
“Anytime an aircraft comes back from a flight, it’s my job to inspect for anything that could disrupt safety or operations for the next flight,” McMicken said. “What’s great about being a crew chief is that even though you work on the same aircraft, you can be working on a different component every day.”
In addition to crew chiefs, the 77th EFS also relies on the 77th EFGS weapons load crews to ensure safe munitions loading to carry out combat patrol missions.
“One of the most important things for weapons load crews, is to have a good working relationship with our pilots and operations section,” said Yanni Rosario Gonzalez, a 77th EFGS load crew member. “We make sure that our pilots know that when they head out for missions, they have properly loaded munitions that are ready to be deployed and serve their intended purpose.”
From debrief, to support, avionics, to electrical and environmental, every section within the 77th EFGS, bands together to ensure the 77th can deliver airpower, anywhere, anytime.
“The camaraderie level in the squadron is definitely high,” McMicken said. “We are all like brothers and everyone in the 77th has your back.”
Nearly, one month into their deployment rotation, the 77th Expeditionary Fighter Generation Squadron, has launched more than 100 sorties and have yet to miss an air tasking order due to a maintenance non-delivery.
“My team has already integrated with our partner nations enhancing our interoperability while setting the standard and paving the way for future AFCENT operations,” Izumi said. “We are already pushing the narrative on what Agile Combat Employment and future operations look like, and we will “Double Down” to meet the Gambler standard.”