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Reservists join forces with active duty fighter squadrons

Technical Sgt. Matt Bennato, an Air Reserve Technician with the 419th Fighter Wing, prepares to launch a 34 Fighter Squadron F-16 May 23.  This is the second day Reserve aircraft maintenance Airmen have worked beside active duty Airmen in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Beth Woodward)

Technical Sgt. Matt Bennato, an Air Reserve Technician with the 419th Fighter Wing, prepares to launch a 34 Fighter Squadron F-16 May 23. This is the second day Reserve aircraft maintenance Airmen have worked beside active duty Airmen in the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Beth Woodward)

James Lafeen, a 419th Fighter Wing Air Reserve Technician and crew chief, inspects an active duty F-16 prior to take-off May 23.  Mr. Lafeen joined the Reserves in 1990 after serving three years on active duty.  The Reserve and active duty fighter wings at Hill are associating under Total Force Integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Beth Woodward)

James Lafeen, a 419th Fighter Wing Air Reserve Technician and crew chief, inspects an active duty F-16 prior to take-off May 23. Mr. Lafeen joined the Reserves in 1990 after serving three years on active duty. The Reserve and active duty fighter wings at Hill are associating under Total Force Integration. (U.S. Air Force photo by 2nd Lt. Beth Woodward)

HILL AIR FORCE BASE, Utah -- A small group of Reserve F-16 pilots and crew chiefs now work side-by-side with their active duty counterparts here, marking a major milestone in an ongoing integration initiative aimed at increasing the combat capability of Hill's fighter wings.

Reservists from the 419th Fighter Wing's 466th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit began flying and maintaining jets on a daily basis with the 388th FW's 4th FS and AMU about a month ago. A contingent of Reserve pilots and crew chiefs also aligned with the active duty 34th and 421st fighter squadrons in May.

The Airmen are teaming up as part of an Air Force Total Force Integration program aimed at increasing efficiencies among like units and capitalizing on the high experience levels of Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard personnel.

"We are now two wings, with one team, in the same fight," said Col. Gary Batinich, 419th FW commander.

While the active duty retains responsibility for the fleet of F-16 Fighting Falcons, pilots and maintenance experts from both wings will work together to accomplish the joint flying mission.

"We have four to six Reservists working with us on both day and night shifts," said Technical Sgt. Shawn Chura, 4th Aircraft Maintenance Unit superintendent. "They bring a fresh perspective to the way we do business in the aircraft maintenance squadron."
In addition to sharing aircraft, active duty and Reserve maintainers in the 4th AMU are signing out the same tools, using the same vehicles to tow aircraft, and conducting a combined "roll call" each morning.

The Total Force maintenance Airmen are also beginning to train together.

"About two weeks ago, we had an aircraft that required a gear box change. A dedicated crew chief from the 419th FW led the repair to help train 388th crew chiefs," said Sergeant Chura.

In addition to pilots and crew chiefs, the integration includes back shop maintainers and operations support personnel.

The Reserve wing's fleet of F-16 Block 30 fighter aircraft will be reassigned to other Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard bases across the U.S. Eight of the unit's aircraft have already transferred with the remaining nine set to leave Hill's runway later this month.

Alternately, the 388th FW is currently receiving F-16 Block 40 aircraft from Cannon AFB, N.M., raising its total to 89 aircraft. (I keep hearing the number 87, but the difference is probably not important.)

By July, all of Hill's Reserve pilots and crew chiefs will be aligned with one of the active duty wing's fighter squadrons but will remain administratively assigned to the 419th Fighter Wing.

As these remaining Reserve pilots and crew chiefs begin working alongside 388th FW personnel, they will need to be checked out on the wing's Block 40 aircraft.

"The transition won't require much additional training for our maintainers," said Senior Master Sgt. Craig Fowler, 466th AMU section chief. "Many of our crew chiefs have worked on Block 40s already," he added.

Later this year, 419th FW operations and maintenance volunteers will deploy alongside their active duty counterparts.

"We are a fully engaged combat fighter wing," said Col. Robert Beletic, 388th FW commander. "We provide the world's best close air support, the world's best air control, and the world's best test and training range. We are fully engaged in Iraq and here at home. We are teaming with the 419th FW and bringing increased combat capabilities to the fight."