MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan - When the 14th Fighter Squadron and the maintainers who supported them returned home from war this summer, there was little time for rest.

After flying close-air support combat missions in Iraq for four months, the 14th’s pilots immediately had to switch gears and get retrained in the suppression of enemy air defenses, their primary mission in this region.

And it had to be done over what’s traditionally some of the worst months for flying in northern Japan.

In July and August, thick sea fog and haze can often ground aircraft.

“Our goal was to be able to get them all requalified by the end of September, and we were able to do that” by completing the flying hour program, said Col. Mark Altobelli, 35th Operations Group commander at Misawa.

“It was a banner year,” he said.

Flying hours are assigned each fiscal year by U.S. Pacific Air Forces, based on a wing’s training requirements. Funding is allocated to the wing to cover the costs of fuel and parts tied to the F-16, said Lt. Col. Ken Madura, 35th Operations Support Squadron commander.

Meeting the flying hour goals means Misawa’s pilots are mission-ready, and the wing is efficiently using its resources, Altobelli said.

That’s no small task in a year that saw two squadrons train for and deploy to war for a mission that was new for most of the wing’s more than 50 pilots, Altobelli said.

The 13th Fighter Squadron deployed to Iraq in late May and recently returned.

Combined, the squadrons flew 5,449 training sorties at Misawa for 7,836 hours, Altobelli said. In Iraq, they logged 11,500 combat hours.

“That’s a lot of flying,” said 35th Maintenance Group commander Col. Cedric George. “It’s really unusual for a wing to fly that much in one year.”

Altobelli credited Misawa’s maintainers for helping the wing achieve its flying hour program.

The maintainers, Altobelli and Madura said, not only played a key role downrange, but also assisted with the 14th’s training “surge” after it returned from Iraq.

Typically, pilots in training fly a 1.5-hour sortie, land, shut down the aircraft, refuel and then take off again about three hours later, Madura said.

For two months, flying hard four days out of the week — weather permitting — the squadron generated more sorties by using the “hot pits,” Madura said.

“We pull the jets into the hardened aircraft shelters, they hook up the gas, and they can refuel us while we’re running on the ground,” he said.

Ground time is reduced from three hours to one hour, allowing pilots to fly more in one day.

In August alone, about 25 pilots from the 14th, and a few who didn’t deploy with the 13th, flew 440 sorties. About 320 sorties is the monthly average at Misawa, officials said.

Madura said August probably marked the most flying by one squadron in a month at Misawa. Pilots also conducted about half of their requalification training on the base’s flight simulator, he said.

For maintainers during the surge period, it was a “typical 10-to-12-hour day,” George said, “but they had to do more jobs that were usually covered by people who were downrange” at the time.

Despite the challenges, George said his team “exceeded my expectations. It was an incredible effort.”

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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