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Thread: Good Bye Tacos.
09-26-2010, 02:36 PM #1
Good Bye Tacos.
150th Fighter Wing's Last 2 F-16s Are Going To Other Units as It Prepares for a New Mission
Subscribe Now Albuquerque Journal
By Charles D. Brunt
Copyright © 2010 Albuquerque Journal
Journal Staff Writer
Sunday, September 26, 2010
By noon today, the last two F-16 Fighting Falcons of the New Mexico Air National Guard's famed 150th Fighter Wing — known since its days in Vietnam at the "Tacos" — will streak out of Kirtland Air Force Base for the last time, taking with them 63 years of fighter history.
Those most directly affected by the loss — the fighter pilots who flew for the Tacos in combat in Korea, Vietnam, Bosnia and Iraq — might disagree about why the wing lost its fighters to other Air National Guard units. But none denies that the wing, which started out flying P-51 Mustangs in Korea, has earned its reputation as one of the best fighter units in the military.
"We're very proud of our heritage and history," Col. Fred Hartwig, the wing's new commander, said Friday at the wing's headquarters at Kirtland.
Today, Hartwig and his squadron commander, Lt. Col. Chris Thomson, will fly the Tacos' last two F-16s out of Kirtland.
"We're looking at it as closing one chapter in our heritage and history and opening another chapter in our service to the state and to the country," Hartwig said.
That new chapter appears to be the merger of the fighter wing with a special operations wing headquartered just down the runway from the Tacos — the Air Force's 58th Special Operations Wing — which trains combat search-and-rescue crews.
Retired Col. John A. "Jack" McCormick, a former commander of the 150th Fighter Wing who flew 245 combat missions in Vietnam, is straightforward in his assessment of the loss of the Tacos' F-16s.
"I think it's a damned travesty," McCormick said last week at his East Mountains home.
"After Vietnam and into the 1970s and '80s, we built quite a reputation known throughout the Tactical Air Command," McCormick said. "You could go to just about any fighter base in the country and probably see Taco tail fins on the ramp."
Because of the expertise the Tacos had gained in air combat over Southeast Asia, they were in high demand when it came to training the next generation of fighter pilots, McCormick said.
That reputation has dwindled, he said, and will disappear with the wing's last F-16s.
McCormick blames the New Mexico Air National Guard leadership for not doing more to retain the Tacos' fighters, and the loss of the congressional clout of longtime Republican Sen. Pete Domenici and former U.S. Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., a graduate of the Air Force Academy.
The future of the 150th came into question in April 2009 with the Pentagon's decision to cap purchases of the new F-22 Raptor — a stealthy, fifth-generation fighter the 150th was hoping would replace its aging F-16s — and to speed up purchases of the less-costly, but equally stealthy, F-35 Lightning II joint strike fighter.
The New Mexico Air National Guard has flown fighters since July 1947, when its 188th Fighter Bomber Squadron was federally activated.
A guard spokesman said that Maj. Gen. Kenny Montoya, adjutant general of the New Mexico National Guard, was unavailable for an interview for this story. However, Montoya said last year that the 150th would not survive the anticipated seven-year gap between the time its F-16s were retired and F-35s would likely be made available to Air National Guard units. That's when the search for a new mission began.
"If they tell you that the reason for this is that the Air Force is drawing down its older legacy fighters ... they're trying to put lipstick on a pig," McCormick said. "These fighters are going to other Air National Guard units in Washington, D.C., and Vermont, and they will be retiring their older fighters."
Since April 15, the 150th has been handing over its 21 F-16s to other Air Guard units. Twenty of them, including the two leaving today, are going to the District of Columbia Air National Guard's 113th Wing, which will retire its existing fleet of older, less powerful F-16s. The Tacos' other F-16 is now with the Vermont Air National Guard's 158th Fighter Wing.
The road ahead
Of the seven Air National Guard fighter wings nationwide slated to lose their fighters, the mission of only one — the 150th — remains in flux.
U.S. Rep. Martin Heinrich, an Albuquerque Democrat and member of the House Armed Services Committee, is the New Mexico congressional delegation's point man for finding a new mission for the Tacos — and for retaining the wing's nearly 1,100 jobs, one-third of which are held by full-time guardsmen.
On Thursday, Heinrich said the lengthy process to get the Pentagon, the Air Force and the National Guard Bureau to approve the integration of the 150th Fighter Wing and the 58th Special Operations Wing is nearing completion.
After recent discussions with Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton Schwartz and Col. James L. Cardoso, the new commander of the 58th, Heinrich said "the whole thing should be finalized in November, probably around Thanksgiving."
"All of the pieces that have to make their way through the Pentagon should be done — inked in blood, basically — in November," Heinrich said. "At that point, it's done ... and it becomes a matter of implementation."
Blending an Air National Guard fighter wing, with its cadre of mostly part-time service personnel, and an Air Force wing that mainly flies large transport planes and helicopters, won't be a simple task.
"The active duty Air Force and the Air National Guard leadership have decided that it's a critical mission, and we're happy to be part of this as a new mission for us," said Hartwig, who has flown F-16s for two decades. "Obviously, the change will present some challenges and difficulties, but change always does."Fine Print:
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09-26-2010, 03:25 PM #2
I can remember tracking a NM ANG A7 out at McGregor range in '90 or thereabouts. The pilot beat us up pretty good.
09-27-2010, 11:33 AM #3
Sic transit gloria mundi.
They should be happy to retain a service mission at all. In my active duty a nuclear NIKE Herc battery control officer and now I am watching the levies as a CIMIC reserve S5. Better that than nuthin.
WolfIts a jungle out there (Randy Newman)
10-02-2010, 08:52 AM #4
Happens all the time, bean counters in Washington. Sioux City, IA lost their fighters about 10 years ago, and as much as the guys were mad back then, they are happy now. They were given a tanker wing which, I hear, are much easier to work on.Keep your mouth shut
And carry a big stick