2 Wyvern Alumni return to Aviano, discuss evolving missions

AVIANO AIR BASE, Italy -- Two 52nd Fighter Wing senior leaders from Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, visited Aviano Base, Italy, Feb. 5, 2015, to tour the future home of the 606th Air Control Squadron, which is scheduled to relocate from Spangdahlem to Aviano in the coming years.

U.S. Air Force Col. Joseph McFall, 52nd FW commander, and Chief Master Sgt. Brian Gates, 52nd FW command chief, both previously served at Aviano.

From April 1999 to February 2002, McFall served with the 510th Fighter Squadron. Gates served with the 31st Mission Support Group from both December 2005 to July 2008, and July 2012 to June 2014.

During their visit the two met with 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs staff to take a stroll down memory lane, discuss the 52nd and 31st FW missions, Air Expeditionary Force rotations, and the 606th ACS and 56th and 57th RQS relocations.

Q1: After the 81st Fighter Squadron inactivated in 2013 and with a near-constant rotation of Combat Air Forces units as part of Theater Security Packages, how have increases in transients impacted the culture of the 52nd FW?

MCFALL: While we're always concerned about the combat airpower piece, we're also an Air Mobility Command overflow for Ramstein Air Base, Germany. Twenty or 30 percent of all inter-theater airlift comes through Spangdahlem. We put the first TSP that rolled through Spangdahlem on base. In two weeks our 52nd Mission Support Group put about 300 people in an entire dorm. It was pretty amazing and it was all due to our fantastic Airmen.

Q2. Do you think this ever-changing culture has helped the 52nd FW Airmen understand and embrace an expeditionary mindset?

MCFALL: I think we've always had that mindset. Having been the 435th Air Ground Operations Wing commander and gone downrange to Africa, I saw Spangdahlem Airmen all over the place - services Airmen cooking in tents, dirt boys doing some amazing repairs, and defenders securing the base. So when something like these TSPs roll through Spangdahlem, there's already a lot of experience there.

Q3. What is the plan to welcome the 352nd Special Operations Wing from Royal Air Forces Mildenhall, England?

MCFALL: They're a tenant wing, so we'll host them and take care of them; but the mission of the 52nd FW won't change. We still do all the things we need to do. I think there will be a little more pressure on the MSG, but the base was built on a three fighter squadron construct. When you talk about bringing in 1,100 more active duty Airmen, we already have the right infrastructure for it.

Q4. Does the 52nd FW "Seek Attack Destroy" motto come from the F-16 Fighting Falcon Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses mission?

GATES: It's the compliment of both the 480th Fighter Squadron and 606th ACS, from the fighters out there doing the SEAD mission to the air controllers making sure the warfighter can fly in the right air space at the right time.

Q5. How does the 52nd FW SEAD mission sync with the 31st FW strike mission?

MCFALL: In order for the 31st FW to conduct its strike mission you have to be free from the threat, which includes surface-to-air missiles. The 52nd FW's ability to clear the airspace of these threats allows Aviano's 510th and 555th Fighter Squadrons to concentrate on their mission.

Q6. What are some of your favorite things about the 52nd and 31st Fighter Wings?

GATES: For both of them, the partnership we have with our off-base hosts is very similar. The relationships we have with both our Italian and German partners is just as strong. People talk about how great the Eifel region is at Spangdahlem and it's beautiful. Much like here, where you're sitting at the base of the Alps with the Adriatic Sea just south of you. It's kind of hard to compare living close to the Adriatic Sea to living in the middle of Europe. Both of them have their advantages. Both are rich in WWI and WWII history.

Q7. As the 31st FW mission continues to grow with the addition of the 56th and 57th Rescue Squadrons and the 606th ACS, do you see these units enhancing the 31st FW's role in future New Normal missions?

GATES: I think both of our airfields can enable the New Normal missions. We have some workhorses that fly in and out of Spangdahlem constantly and we know those same planes and airframes can fly out of Aviano as well. The rescue piece is definitely better situated down here for New Normal missions.

Q8. What are some similarities and differences between an air ground operations wing and air control squadron?

MCFALL: The 1st Combat Communications Squadron was part of the 435th AGOW and their motto was, "First In, Last Out." The link there is that in order for the 606th ACS to be able to do their job in the middle of nowhere, they have to have that expeditionary communication piece. You have to have combat communications Airmen to provide the communications backbone for the 606th ACS to do their job.

Q9. Having served in Pacific Air Forces and U.S. Air Forces in Europe, what are some of the differences in each major command's combat mission?

GATES: The environment in Europe has changed a lot. Things have changed drastically from the Cold War to today. We live in a different environment in Europe than we did back in 2005 and even in 2010. Here we are, midway through this decade and I think the Airmen are realizing this environment is changing in Europe. In PACAF, you know what you train for each and every day and it's pretty clear how you fall in to support things. Here in Europe we have to answer when called. We've done a great job of being Forward-Ready-Now. For the 52nd FW, we've answered the call every time we're called. When we ask our Airmen to do something they'll find a way to get it done no matter where we put them on the globe.

Q10. Do you have any parting thoughts you'd like to share?

MCFALL: To leaders at all levels, trust your people, fight to get them the resources and training they need, and trust them to let them wow you with the amazing stuff they can give you.

GATES: Relish the time you have to live overseas and in the local communities.