Please try to write back

Please try to write backHURLBURT FIELD, Fla. (AFNS)

Bringing a little holiday cheer to an unknown service member was all an 8-year-old boy was trying to do 25 years ago.

A single letter united a pair of Air Force veterans, and the handwritten greeting made its way back to its author now an Air Force major at Hurlburt Field Jan. 25.

It started 25 years ago, when students from Fulmar Elementary School in Mahopac, New York, wrote letters to military members who were deployed in support of Operation Desert Storm.

A young Stephen Rausa started his letter anonymously with “Dear Any Service Member,” and ended it with “Please try to write back.” As he sealed his letter, he never knew for sure if he would receive a response.

He never dreamed that he would get back a letter from someone with such a familiar name.

“There were a lot of letters boxed up, all addressed to ‘Any Service Member,’” recalled retired Master Sgt. Ben Rausa. “As I dug through the box, a return sender’s name caught my eye. He had the same last name as me. Rausa isn’t a very common name.”

Ben wrote back to his new little friend, and they started an unlikely relationship.

“Getting that letter from someone with the same last name was so cool,” Stephen said. “My entire family was sitting at the table, and they were all floored, in that loud Italian way. Everyone thought we must be related somehow, someway.”

They exchanged a couple of letters with photos, but over time they lost track of each other. They sporadically contacted each other, enough so that Ben knew Stephen was a pilot in the Air Force stationed at Hurlburt Field.

Today, Ben lives near Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. With the anniversary of Desert Storm this month, he was determined to find his little pen pal from so many years ago.

“It got me thinking about bringing this around full circle and meeting Stephen and letting him have these old keepsakes,” Ben said. “I guess I never really thanked him for the nice holiday letter.”

The two finally met over lunch at the Soundside Club on Hurlburt Field.

“I was so excited to meet Stephen and see how far he has come,” Ben said. “The Air Force has meant everything to me. I am happy … to see he has chosen to be part of the Air Force family, too.”

As the two caught up, they realized there are so many similarities in their family tree. Both trace their roots back to Sicily. One more notable coincidence is that Stephen’s father was a crew chief with the 33rd Fighter Wing, stationed at Eglin Air Force Base in the 1960s. Sometime later, Ben was also a crew chief in the 33rd.

Although Stephen has been stationed here for several years, the friendship never fully rekindled until now.

“I certainly hope I stay in contact with him. I regret not reaching out sooner,” Ben said.

By the end of lunch, the two made a standing promise is to stay in touch whether by email or by telephone.

“I never really thought much about writing that letter back then,” Stephen said. “But now it really makes you think about never passing up even the smallest of opportunities, you never know where it will lead 25 years later.”

Buddy Wing showcases South Korea, US alliance

Buddy Wing showcases South Korea, US allianceSEOSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFNS)

U.S. Airmen from the 36th Fighter Squadron and Aircraft Maintenance Unit traveled to Seosan Air Base, South Korea, to participate in exercise Buddy Wing with South Korean air force personnel from the 121st Fighter Squadron, 20th Fighter Wing, from Jan. 25-29.

“The Buddy Wing program is a combined fighter exchange between the U.S. and (Republic of Korea Air Force) to promote solidarity among any operations we may execute,” said Capt. Shannon Beers, a 36th FS pilot. “Buddy Wing is a great opportunity to work with our Korean counterparts in deterrence exercises in the event of combat operations.”

A program conducted throughout the year, Buddy Wing takes place on the peninsula and is used to sharpen interoperability between the allied forces.

“The ROKAF and U.S. alliance is not the matter of short-term, but a long-term, everlasting one,” said Capt. Yim Chung-su, a 121st FS pilot. “I hope we are able to continue to improve the combined exercise where more ROKAF and U.S. Airmen can participate.”

Designed to increase mutual understanding and enhance interoperability, Buddy Wing exercises allow participants from both nations the opportunity to exchange ideas and practice combined tactics.

“Our number one role here is deterrence and being capable in our credibility,” Beers said. “The better we work together, the better we will be able to live up to that role.

“Buddy Wing is a unique opportunity to work with the ROKAF, learn how they do things and teach them different techniques from our end,” he continued. “Interoperability is vital to our success. Knowing that I have capable combat partners and they also have faith in me helps to execute the mission here on the peninsula.”

Some of the challenges faced create better learning opportunities.

“The biggest challenges are working with unfamiliar terms and in different airspaces,” Beers said. “We’ll work through those differences in mission planning so we have a better understanding now versus in a real-world incident.

“A large part of being a fighter pilot is working on mission planning,” he continued. “We conduct the planning to go over every detail, including potential contingencies that may arise. In the event of a real-world foreign aggression, we would have anticipated that problem and executed successfully.”

This Buddy Wing included four F-16 Fighting Falcons from the 36th FS and more than 10 KF-16C Fighting Falcons from the 121st FS.

“My favorite part in the Buddy Wing is starting the exercise with U.S. from the beginning,” Yim said. “There have been some other combined exercises, but Max Thunder and Buddy Wing exercises are the only ones which we can train together from planning until the end of flight. In that sense, this exercise is really important and I like the part where we both can plan together.”

The alliance between the U.S. and South Korea has been prevalent for more than 62 years.

“The success of Buddy Wing program is imperative to our success in the event of real-world contingencies,” Beers said. “The more we practice, the better prepared we are in the war front.

James applauds DOD Force of the Future initiatives

James applauds DOD Force of the Future initiativesWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James declared her support of department-wide reforms focused on improving quality of life for military parents, following Defense Secretary Ash Carter’s Jan. 28 announcement on the next round of Force of the Future initiatives.

“I applaud Secretary Carter and welcome these announcements as a positive step forward for our Airmen and their families,” James said.

James has been vocal about her support for extending maternity leave, and the importance of a comprehensive update to the Air Force’s current policy, including paternity leave reform as well.

“This change places our Air Force in the top tier of organizations that offer 12 weeks maternity leave to new mothers,” James said. “The department will also be introducing legislation to increase paternity leave to 14 days across the total force.”

The maternity benefit will be offered to the over 200,000 women in uniform today, who comprise 14.8 percent of enlisted personnel and 17.4 percent of the officer corps in the Defense Department.

Also included in the comprehensive package of family benefits are the following: expansion of adoption leave; extending childhood development center hours to a 14-hour minimum; modifying or installing mother rooms at each instillation; an examination of additional options for child care; allowing service members to postpone a permanent change of station in certain instances where it is in the best interests of the family; and covering the cost of egg and sperm cryopreservation for active-duty service members.

“This is the right thing to do,” James said. “This groundbreaking policy carefully balances our priority focus on mission effectiveness with ongoing efforts to attract and retain talent in a changing workforce.”

James said more details, including effective dates, will be made available as the services begin planning for implementation.

For more information on the next round of Force of the Future initiatives click here.

AF Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program list triples

AF Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program list triplesWASHINGTON (AFNS)

Air Force officials released details on the fiscal year 2016 Selective Re-enlistment Bonus program Feb. 1. This year’s program, consisting of 117 Air Force specialties eligible to receive bonuses, is a substantial increase from the previous year’s program where 40 Air Force specialty codes were eligible.

The program’s expansion coincides with Air Force plans to grow the force to meet mission demands in the face of changing geopolitical situations, and to address key gaps in nuclear, maintenance, cyber, intelligence, remotely piloted aircraft and support career fields through fiscal 2017.

According to Col. Robert Romer, the chief of military force policy for the Air Force, the criteria used to determine career fields eligible for re-enlistment bonuses includes current and projected manning levels, re-enlistment trends, career field force structure changes, career field stress levels, and the cost levels associated with training new Airmen.

“This year’s SRB list increased by nearly threefold as we focused on retaining key experience while continuing our deliberate plan to grow our force,” Romer said. “We are increasing our accessions and training pipeline to support the increased growth, but these new enlistees won’t be seasoned for some time. Retaining the experience we have is critical to our success in reaching target end strength.”

All AFSC bonus changes are effective Feb. 1, 2016.

For more information, contact the local military personnel flight re-enlistment section.

The fiscal 2016 list is available on myPers with secured access here.

Yokota Airmen help prepare Sailors for refuels

Yokota Airmen help prepare Sailors for refuelsYOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan (AFNS)

Airmen fuelers from the 374th Logistics Readiness Squadron provided essential training on the R-11 refueling trucks to Sailors from Naval Air Facility Atsugi, Japan, at Yokota Air Base Jan. 25-29.

The training allowed members to prepare to support Navy aircraft at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, during exercise Cope North.

“The training they receive is important because they will be using our refueling trucks as they provide fuel to their aircraft,” said Senior Airman Tyler Sims, a 374th LRS Fuels Management Flight fuels training supervisor. “We prepared them for any potential tasks they will need to perform.”

The Navy personnel who received training on the R-11 refueling trucks learned how to drive, service aircraft, perform minor maintenance, and how to check fuel samples with the vehicle.

“It is imperative for us to learn how to operate the vehicles because it will ensure our readiness is where it needs to be and help us effectively complete our mission,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Christian Fakhoury, a NAF Atsugi Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron administrative assistant. “This course has been great because I have learned more mechanical knowledge on the trucks.”

Working alongside Air Force personnel has provided the Navy personnel with more than just a better understanding of how to operate a refueling truck.

“Working together with different military branches helps build camaraderie between our sister services, making it easier to work with each other towards the same goal,” said Petty Officer 3rd Class Zachary Danford, a NAF Atsugi Carrier AEWS aviation electrician. “The training has also helped us learn about different Air Force customs and courtesies that we are not used to in the Navy. This will help us work more effectively in future missions.”

The fuels Airmen provided necessary knowledge and training to the Navy personnel during the weeklong event. The course was not only important for the Sailors to learn how to properly complete missions using the R-11 refueling truck, it also helped build teamwork and promoted camaraderie between sister branches.

After the Navy members completed their training, they went back to their home station and began preparation for exercise Cope North.

Exercise Cope North began in 1978 when it was first hosted at Misawa Air Base, Japan. Having more than three decades of multilateral training has ensured team Yokota AB, along with its allies, are ready for contingency and humanitarian operations at a moment’s notice. The exercise is designed to enhance each countries air operations. Additionally, the exercise includes humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training objectives.

Maintainers put the fight in fighter at Souda Bay

Maintainers put the fight in fighter at Souda BaySOUDA BAY, Greece (AFNS)

Let’s face it, things break. A kid’s toy, TVs, kitchen wear, automobiles, and yes, even a couple million-dollar airplanes can break. That’s when the maintainers of the 52nd Fighter Wing get called to fix what’s broken.

More than 15 F-16 Fighter Falcons assigned to the 480th Fighter Squadron at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, are on a forward training deployment at Souda Bay, Greece, for bilateral training with the Hellenic Air Force until Feb. 15.

“What we’re here for is to get our pilots and maintainers trained and prepared for any future deployments that could send them downrange,” said Capt. Erik Ringstad, the 480th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron Aircraft Maintenance Unit officer in charge. “My role here is to supervise and coordinate the maintainers we have, approximately 230 to provide safe, reliable and secure aircraft for our pilots.”

Once an aircraft lands and is handed over to the maintainers, it can take up to three hours to turn around the aircraft and ready it for the next pilot.

Hellenic Air Force maintainers have been working with the 52nd FW maintainers to get a better understanding of hot pit operations, Ringstand added.

“They currently don’t run that operation here, which is essentially refueling the aircraft while the engine is still running to expedite turn on the aircraft,” he said. “They have been working with our guys to actually get an understanding and to eventually apply that here.”

The U.S. Air Force’s forward presence in Europe allows the U.S. to work with allies and partners to develop and improve ready air forces capable of maintaining regional security.

With flying times starting in the morning and into the late afternoon, it takes more than one shift of Airmen to maintain the aircraft.

“Right now we’re on 10-hour shifts with the ability to go to 12-hour shifts if needed,” said Chief Master Sgt. Brian Parsons, the 480th EFS AMU superintendent. “It’s an open ramp environment which is good for the maintenance aspect of it, as long as the weather cooperates. When it rains, there is not a lot of cover out there.”

For maintainers to get out in an expeditionary environment like this and see what kind of challenges they can face is good training, Parsons said. This deployment also shows continuing contributions to develop and improve air readiness while maintaining security and building long-lasting alliance capacity.

“My mission makes me feel proud and important,” said Staff Sgt. Thai MacLeod, a 480th EFS AMU aerospace ground equipment craftsman. “If we don’t provide power to the jets, the maintainers can’t fix the jets, and jets can’t fly. We play a pretty big part, and I like that.”

They may not be fixing TVs or kids’ toys, but the maintainers spend countless hours each day doing what they say they do best: fixing and maintaining the aircraft of the 52nd FW.

“At the end of the day, from a maintainer’s perspective, we make sure we are proficient and give the aircrew reliable aircraft,” Ringstand said.

AF awards contract for next Air Force One

AF awards contract for next Air Force OneWASHINGTON (AFNS)

The Boeing Company was awarded a contract Jan. 29 for risk reduction activities for the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program, which will field the next Air Force One.

This is the first contract the Air Force has awarded for this program. Additional modifications will be made to this contract in the future to purchase the commercial 747-8 aircraft, as well as to design, modify and test those aircraft to meet the presidential mission.

These efforts are the first step in a deliberate process to control program risks and life cycle costs. These activities will include the definition of detailed requirements and design trade-offs required to support informed decisions that will lead to a lower risk Engineering and Manufacturing Development program and lower life cycle costs.

“This is the start of our contractual relationship with Boeing. It will allow Boeing to begin working on what will be the next Air Force One,” said Col. Amy McCain, the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program manager. “This initial effort is about reducing risk, really understanding where the tough work will be, finding affordability opportunities, and getting the best value for the taxpayer, while continuing to meet the needs of our commander in chief.”

The secretary of the Air Force has made it clear that affordability will be a key element of the Presidential Aircraft Recapitalization program.

“We will continue to insist upon program affordability through cost conscious procurement practices,” said Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James.

“The presidential aircraft is one of the most visible symbols of the United States of America at home and abroad,” James said. “We will ensure the next Air Force One meets the necessary capabilities established to execute the presidential support mission, while reflecting the office of the president of the United States of America consistent with the national public interest.”

The Air Force wants to own enough of the technical baseline to permit competition for modifications and sustainment throughout the aircraft’s planned 30-year life cycle. Competition can keep costs down, spur innovation and provide technical options.

“We are focused on ensuring this program is affordable,” McCain said. “This contract gets us started on determining how to modify a 747-8 to become the next Air Force One, and finding opportunities for cost reduction through detailed requirements choices, competition of subsystems, and in the sustainment of the aircraft after it has been fielded.”

“The current fleet of VC-25A presidential aircraft has performed exceptionally well, a testament to the Airmen who support, maintain and fly the aircraft,” James said. “Yet, it is time to replace them. Parts obsolescence, diminishing manufacturing sources and increased down times for maintenance are existing challenges that will increase until a new aircraft is fielded.”