Right Passion for the Mission
By Tech. Sgt. Thomas Kielbasa, Florida National Guard Public Affairs
/ Published April 06, 2009
HOMESTEAD, Fla. - When the alarm sounds at the 125th Fighter Wing's Detachment 1, the F-15 Eagle fighter jet pilots have about five minutes to be in the air and ready to respond to a threat. --
Twenty-four hours a day, seven day a week, this Florida Air National Guard unit waits on alert at Homestead Air Reserve Base near Miami to defend the southeastern United States against airborne threats. The pilots and Airmen could be the last line of defense against an attack anywhere from South Carolina to Alabama.
Recently the team was honored for proving its mettle during an inspection by Headquarters, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD). Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett and Florida Air National Guard leaders met with the unit Feb. 6 and presented awards to the Airmen for helping the Detachment receive a "Mission Ready" rating on the no-notice Alert Force Evaluation.
According to the general this was the "highest possible rating" the Detachment could receive from the inspection.
"It takes the right passion for the mission to pull these things off," the Adjutant General told the unit members. "...I just can't say enough good things about your hard work."
On Jan. 29 an Alert Force Evaluation team from NORAD conducted the surprise inspection, evaluating each area involved with alert mission: operations, maintenance, command and control, and security.
According to Detachment 1 Director of Operations Maj. James Spooner, the inspectors evaluated and scrutinized the unit's response time during an alert, studied how well the F-15 pilots could intercept an airborne target, and checked the maintenance of an aircraft after a mission.
"The inspectors saw almost zero discrepancies in how we operate both in the air and on the ground maintaining the aircraft," Spooner noted. "They are saying that the crew on duty and the maintainers here are top notch - which they truly are."
F-15 Eagle Crew Chief Tech. Sgt. Aaron Hartley explained that the "Mission Ready" rating they received from the inspection highlights the amount of work the unit puts into training and preparation.
"We spend basically every day working towards the same goal - to be the best," Hartley said. "Our motto is 'Excellence in Air Defense' and we strive every day for excellence. Every day we're concentrating on having our programs tight (and) our procedures down, so whenever anybody shows up - whether it's an actual threat or an inspection - we want to do the job right every time."
Alert Flight Chief Master Sgt. Dwayne Gainey said the unit's success during the inspection wasn't a surprise, considering how smoothly operations go when they receive an actual alert.
"When we get the horn, all the guys here are experienced and have an idea of what to expect," Gainey said. "Everything runs smooth, and we get the job done."
According to unit personnel, the alert mission there began in the early 1960s after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and has been operating continuously ever since. In 1983 the 125th Fighter Wing took over the alert mission in South Florida.