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Feature | Aug. 31, 2006

'Ready Elmendorf:' Manning, timing issues incite careful planning

By Capt. Elizabeth Kreft 1st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

Wanted: skilled Raptor maintainers, pilots and support personnel wanted for hire in semi-remote location 

Job description: stand up the first Alaskan F-22A Raptor squadron
Perk: plenty of travel, especially to Langley AFB 

Hitch: long, cold winters 

Though the climate may scare some off, plenty of volunteers have already raised their hands to help bring Raptors to Elmendorf AFB. The hard part for Air Force leadership will be the decision on who goes and who stays. 

"At this point I have a general idea on who I'd like to see in Alaska," said Lt. Col. Michael Shower, Detachment 90 commander. 

He noted the decision for who ultimately moves to Alaska rests in the hands of more senior leadership. 

"We'll need to take a balanced group of experienced individuals coupled with some fresh faces, but we can't just take all the knowledge away from Langley."
 
Det. 90, the first stage of F-22 progression toward operations at the 90th Fighter Squadron in Alaska, will be manned and operated by a majority of Langley personnel at the beginning. Some Airmen will eventually make the move to Anchorage becoming permanent members of the squadron or maintenance units. Others will lead on-the-job training here, then remain with the 1st Fighter Wing. 

"We'll need to have some folks in Alaska preparing for operations there, but we'll also take some Airmen from Elmendorf and bring them here for training first, then send them back up once they are ready," Colonel Shower said. 

The question isn't just who gets these opportunities, but when and how to make the transitions. Det. 90 F-22 operations must happen in Virginia and Alaska during the shift so proper training and beddown procedures can take place. 

"The goal is to have a smooth transition, so we'll need operations to slowly increase up there, which means balancing people, equipment and jets simultaneously in both locations," Colonel Shower said. 

Det. 90 will open its doors Oct. 1. The new commander made it clear that from day one it will be a constant shuffle of people and resources. 

"This will be a unique challenge," he said. "We'd like to pull a few experienced personnel from other F-22 bases as well, depending on their experience and timing for jobs to alleviate the strain on Langley Airmen." 

The detachment will have just four months to establish a training and operations foundation before Alaska F-22s are delivered to Langley. 

"Our first Alaska Raptor will be delivered here in February," Colonel Shower said. "We'll have a few pilots in Det. 90 around the same time and then in about six or seven months, we'll start to see jets move up to Elmendorf, along with some of the pilots and maintainers." 

Det. 90 schedulers will have the unique challenge of trying to balance sortie rates for pilots and jets separated by about 3,500 miles. 

"People will have to travel back and forth," he said. "Some guys will fly here and then go back to Alaska. Others might start in Alaska, go to training at Tyndall, come here to Langley then go back up to Alaska. We'll have people moving in all directions." 

Construction and weather issues add another two interesting ingredients to the mix.
"The window for building up there is much smaller," Colonel Shower pointed out. "They only have a few good months where they can get some of the necessary facility changes done." 

Though F-22A Raptors did spend six weeks in Alaska this summer during the jet's first overseas deployment, to permanently house the stealthy aircraft the base will need some new hangars and support buildings. 

By all accounts though, the construction is well underway. In addition, Elmendorf is renovating a number of older buildings to ensure they meet the required standards.
"We are excited to see this plan unfold, and the facilities will be up to standard on time," said Brig. Gen. Hawk Carlisle, 3rd Wing commander. "We'll be ready." 

He isn't the only one who thinks so, apparently. Chief of Staff of the Air Force, Michael T. Moseley, has marked early 2008 as the official target time for bringing the entire Alaska outfit back home. 

"CSAF's goal is by January 2008, Alaska should have jets and everything in place ready for full operations," said Colonel Shower. "It will be a challenge, but by leveraging the experience we already have at Langley, I am confident we can make it happen."