33rd Fighter Wing supports Operation Noble Eagle mission
EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- From Sept. 11, 2001, when F-15C Eagles scrambled from the runways here into the North American skies, until today, men and women in the 33rd Fighter Wing have supported Operation Noble Eagle by helping protect the U.S. homeland from terrorists.
ONE is the military mission that combats the type of terrorist attacks used on 9-11. Those attacks prompted North American Aerospace Defense Command to augment its mission and begin conducting surveillance and control of the aerospace over the United States, as well as Canada.
Col. Keith Feaga, the 33rd's vice commander, remembers when ONE began. After the Pentagon was attacked, he provided combat air support over Washington, D.C., on 9-11.
“Flying over our nation’s Capitol, looking down and seeing the Pentagon on fire, traffic gridlock and emergency vehicles flooding the streets and bridges, was sobering, to say the least,” Feaga said. “I had just returned from Operation Southern Watch and remember thinking to myself that this [type of] mission is something I do over there, not here.
"Within hours after landing and understanding everything that went on that day, we all knew that things were going to be a lot different for all of us.”
Since that day, NORAD-directed fighters have flown more than 40,000 sorties and scrambled or diverted aircraft from irregular air patrols more than 2,000 times.
“What can be more important than protecting the American public and our key leadership in our homeland?” said Col. Ken Wilsbach, commander of the unit's Operations Group. “It’s about security to maintain and improve the American dream. It’s also what the average citizen expects from us. Basically, it’s our utmost duty to ensure the safety and protection of our fellow Americans and our way of life.”
One of the wing’s ONE missions was the 2004 presidential election.
“That was a busy and exciting time,” said Col. Brett Williams, the 33rd's commander. “Moving people and airplanes on short notice around the country to cover the president was standard, and our Airmen worked miracles to make sure our F-15s were in the air on time and on target.”
Staff Sgt. Jeremy Carlock, flight line expeditor for the 58th Aircraft Maintenance Unit, remembers that ONE tasking.
“We were sent to Langley Air Force Base, Va.,” he said. “While we were there, we were asked to pack up and move over to Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. We needed to be in place and operational in three days. This was a major tasking to move personnel and equipment from place to place in only three days. We were able to make this happen with no problems.”
Wilsbach agreed the Airmen worked hard during the presidential election.
“It was a total team effort from intelligence to maintenance to operations,” he said. “Anytime there was an event in the eastern half of the country, [the 58th Fighter Squadron] was there. This occurred for four months straight.”
“This year, the 60th Fighter Squadron has already accomplished much during the first month of their Air Expeditionary Force rotation,” Wilsbach said. “Just recently, they executed a[n irregular air patrol] over Washington, D.C., during the State of the Union address and then deployed 12 jets the following day to protect the president during his travels through three western cities.”
The 33rd not only provides support with its fighter squadrons, but also through its 728th Air Control Squadron.
Since October 2001, the squadron has dedicated 8,507 days to the ONE mission. They supported various events, including the Space Shuttle Endeavour launch in 2001 and the G-8 Summit in 2004, by providing surveillance and identification for the assigned airspace.
“Although they deploy to Iraq during their AEF rotation, when they return to the United States they receive taskings to support ONE, as well,” Wilsbach said. “It demonstrates how flexible the 33rd Fighter Wing is and our ability to project air superiority anytime, anywhere.”
Col. Fred Defranza, 728th Air Control Squadron commander, said he’s very proud of his Airmen and their commitment to the ONE mission.
“ONE is different from our normal AEF Iraq rotation,” Defranza said. “It’s more reactive and very short notice. That’s the nature of the beast today, and most of my younger Airmen joined after Sept. 11 specifically to fight the terrorists and uphold our democracy.”
For one young Florida native, Senior Airman Raymond Mott, a 60th Aircraft Maintenance Unit weapons loader, the ONE mission stands out because of the nonstop dedication it takes on everybody’s part to make the mission succeed.
“The demands of the mission are very high,” Mott said. “It takes a lot of sacrifice.”
“Our Airmen handle everything we throw at them with amazing professionalism and excellence,” Williams said. “We went into this mission knowing that short-notice taskings would be the norm, and we are prepared from an operational and personal standpoint to handle the job. Homeland defense is the number one mission for the Department of Defense, and the Nomads are proud to do their part to ensure the skies over our country are safe.”