HILL AIR FORCE BASE — If you ask Maj. Eric Fiederer, he’ll tell you he knew the Rude Rams of the 34th Fighter Squadron couldn’t be kept down for too long.
And now, four years after Fiederer’s beloved squadron was put to bed indefinitely, the Air Force has validated his intuition — confirming last week that the currently inactive 34th FS of Hill Air Force Base will be returning to duty when the F-35 begins to arrive at the base.
Fiederer, who now serves as a reservist with Hill’s 466th Fighter Squadron, was a member of the 34th when it was officially deactivated in the summer of 2010. The closing came after an Air Force-wide money saving restructuring plan that called for the retirement of 259 aircraft including 112 F-15s, 138 F-16s and nine A-10s.
When the squadron was deactivated, Hill lost 24 F-16s, cutting the base’s number of Fighting Falcons by a third.
Nicknamed the “Rude Rams,” the 34th FS is steeped in rich military history. Its laudable reputation made the squadron’s deactivation somewhat of a dark day at Hill.
"It was a pretty sad day,“ Fiederer said. ”There was the hope that the 34th would be brought back with the F-35, but you didn’t know for sure.“
At that time, Hill was a finalist to host three F-35 operation wings and 72 individual jets. It wasn’t until December 2013 that the Air Force made a final decision on the jet, naming Hill as the destination for the military’s fifth generation fighter. But official word on the old fighter squadron’s fate had never been reported, until last week.
Hill spokesman Richard Essary confirmed that when the F-35 comes to Hill, the 34th will be there to accept it.
Essary said the first F-35 is scheduled to arrive sometime in late 2015 and there will be a steady buildup of jets after that.
Fiederer, who will help reintegrate the 34th into service, said he’s thrilled to see his old squadron being reborn.
"It’s an important thing to a lot of people, especially with the history tied to it,” Fiederer said, who deployed to both Iraq and Afghanistan while he was a member of the unit.
Fiederer likened the 34th’s solemn historic status to that of a longstanding professional sports team, like the New York Yankees or the Green Bay Packers, but with one special caveat.
"(The 34th’s) history has been forged in the blood of people who gave their lives for their country,“ he said. ”So we go to great lengths to keep that legacy alive.“
And what a legacy it is.
According to a 2010 narrative written by former 388th Fighter Wing Historian Aaron Clark, the 34th's roots go back to Seymour Johnson Field, N.C., where it was activated for the first time on Oct. 15, 1944. The squadron flew P-47 Thunderbolts in combat operations over the Western Pacific in the latter days of World War II.
After World War II, the squadron was relatively quiet until 1966, when it joined the fight in Vietnam. From 1966 to 1972, while assigned to George Air Force Base, Calif., the squadron’s involvement in Vietnam was heavy and crucial.
According to Clark, the group first flew F-5 Thunderchiefs in Vietnam and Maj. Kenneth Blank was the first pilot to shoot down a MiG-17, which occurred north of Hanoi. Soon after that, the Rams began a strategic bombing campaign which included striking the Thai Ngyen Iron and Steel Complex, a crucial target.
By March of 1967, the 34th had already logged 10,000 combat hours and hit multiple targets in the Dong Hoi area of North Vietnam. The unit received the distinguished Presidential Unit Citation for its actions in Southeast Asia in 1967.
In 1969, the crew began flying the F-4E Phantom II and continued effective strikes on enemy targets.
When the Vietnam conflict ended, the Rams were relocated to Hill, in December of 1975. In 1979, the 34th became the first fighter squadron to receive the new F-16 Fighting Falcon, which took the place of the F-4.
In December 1991, the Rams became the first squadron at Hill to deploy in support of Operation Southern Watch, enforcing the no-fly zone in Iraq after the Gulf War.
The 34th also was the first active-duty Air Force squadron to deploy to Curacao, Netherlands Antilles, flying missions into Latin America to intercept, shadow, and identify suspected narcotics-carrying aircraft.
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the Rams have played a significant role in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan and even provided homeland defense flights including security for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
The Rams finished their last deployment in May 2010 with a four-month stay at Bagram Airfield in Afghanistan, where the squadron provided support to coalition forces on the ground. The deployment marked only the third time an F-16 unit had deployed to the airfield.