First Time: 173rd Fighter Wing hosts secretary of the Air Force

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Jefferson Thompson
  • 173rd Fighter Wing
Secretary of the Air Force Heather Wilson visited the 173rd Fighter Wing Nov. 3-4, 2018, marking the first visit by a sitting secretary since Kingsley Field Air National Guard Base, Oregon opened its gates during World War II.

During her visit, Wilson had the opportunity to see firsthand the wing’s mission, which is the sole training provider of F-15C Eagle air superiority pilots to the U.S. Air Force. The base coined the phrase, “America’s air superiority starts here,” to describe a mission vital to the interests of the Air Force.

One of her key messages for the community and the wing is the emergence of threats with capabilities comparable to the U.S., which she said requires a concerted effort to modernize and re-establish technological superiority.

“The thing that’s driving all this is the threat—we’ve returned to an era of great power competition and we have to be prepared for that,” she said.

That means an increase in readiness, an expansion of the number of squadrons, and an increase in the number of Airmen joining the ranks of fully qualified fighter pilots, something the 173rd FW executes every day.

Over the last several years the wing has added training airspace making it the second largest range in the entire Air Force, second only to the Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada, range. Kingsley Field has also secured the longest lease in the Air Force, until the year 2095, largely driven by strong community support.

“It’s a very supportive community, and that matters to our Airmen and it matters to inspire the next generation of young people to consider the United States Air Force whether it’s active, guard or reserve,” said Wilson.

Wilson’s history with the Air Force dates back to college, she graduated from the Air Force Academy and served for seven years in the 1980s. She said there are some differences in the service now and one of them is readily evident at Kingsley Field.

“It’s a guard unit that has an active association so that is very unique,” she said referencing the active association with the 550th Fighter Squadron. “One of the things that’s different about the Air Force from when I was on active duty is the closeness of the active, guard and reserve. The operating tempo is much higher, but that also means that the integration is even more important today than it was 20 years ago.”

Kingsley Field added more than 90 active duty troops several years ago, and they help increase the number of student pilots the wing graduates in a year.

Although her visit spanned just over 24 hours she made time to meet with Airmen from the most junior to the higher ranks and she hosted a town hall for more than an hour. The base theater reached capacity and still more people filed in to stand in the back. During her presentation she asked each Airmen to write on a three-by-five card something they would like her to know.

“If there is anything you would like me to know, anything at all, please write it on the card, I will read every one of them on the plane when I leave,” she said.

The final part of her visit was a ride in the back seat of the F-15 where she traveled to the training airspace to see its scope and to experience some of what the aircraft is capable of.

“It was a great day, it was a really great day,” she said with a smile on her face. “Climbing at 70-degrees nose-high and going from 6,000 feet to 18,000 feet in what seemed like less than 30-seconds—going inverted and just having (Col. Jeff Smith) show me what the jet could do was a lot of fun.”