On April 10, 1977, the Air Force announced the 388th Fighter Wing as the first operational unit to be equipped with the new F-16 fighter jet. Twenty-five years later, the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings worked collaboratively to preserve the combat heritage of Hill AFB by putting a 388th Fighter Wing flag-ship proudly on display at the Airmen memorial park.
As Col. Michael Costello watched as the jet was being set on its pedestal April 23, he was reflective of the historical process: "The 388th, 419th and 75th have combat missions and are therefore primarily focused on working together to take care of the nation's business. It all comes down to teamwork, total forces integration (TFI), combining our efforts to preserve the legacy of those who have come before us and leaving something behind for those who will come after us. The F-16 has served this nation well over the years. Eventually it will leave our inventory and we'll be moving on to different platforms, although the mission will remain the same -- to secure liberty and freedom for the citizens of the United States."
388th Maintenance Flight Commander Capt. Travis Lytton explained that the National Museum of the United States Air Force, located at Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio owns and controls logistical operations of all static display aircraft. Lytton said, "The number of hours that goes into this type of project is incredible -- from decommissioning the jet, stripping components (including seat and landing gear) putting the tail pipe assembly in (there's not an actual motor in it), permanently riveting and sealing it shut, painting, mounting and all the expertise that goes into getting the jet on that tiny pole up there."
According to the captain, the mount was on the old F-16 static display at the West Gate, which was taken down and moved to the museum. The mounting pole at Hill Memorial Park originally displayed an F-4. That F-4 is now on display at the Roy Gate. There were a lot of recycled parts used for this endeavor to keep expenses down. The only thing that had to be specifically made was the mounting plate itself.
Lytton enjoyed watching the two fighter wings work together. "We really couldn't have done it without the help of the 419th for the CR (crash recovery) capability piece. The 309th and 75th provided security escorts for us as well as the crane and other equipment necessary to hoist and secure the F-16 to the mount," he said.
Also on site at the park was Senior Master Sgt. Mike Iarossi, Lytton's counterpart with the 419th. Iarossi expressed pride in the fact the two fighter wings were combining their efforts to create a joint training opportunity. "It's good for us to exercise this piece and we're actually using this as an annual exercise, utilizing the same techniques we would if we really crashed a jet," he said. "This is a combined 419th-388th Crash Recovery Team. We're using the sling, doing some landing gear maintenance and other work in conjunction with this project, so it's a good training opportunity for us and helps to beautify the park at the same time."
According to 388th Maintenance Group Commander Col. Michael Costello, "Not only are we proud of the professionals that have been working over the last couple years to bring this together, but what you're seeing is TFI at its finest right here. It's my hope that when the Hilltop Times comes out this week each member of our hard-working team will take an extra copy to send to their mom, dad, grandma, aunts or uncles and appreciate their accomplishments, be proud and know they played an invaluable part in history. Thanks to all of them and thanks to Capt. Lytton, Senior Master Sgt. Mike Iarossi, Tech. Sgt. Raymond Gills and Metals Tech Flight, Tech. Sgt. Jody Bussiere and Sheet Metal, and 388th and 419th Maintenance Flights."