Squadrons gather at RAF Lakenheath for Excalibur competition
August 21, 2004
RAF LAKENHEATH, England — The tone for the Excalibur bombing competition awards ceremony Thursday was set when Brig. Gen. Mark T. Matthews, who commands the F-15s of the 48th Fighter Wing, introduced his boss.
He made a joke at the expense of the F-15 Falcon, which happens to be the airplane flown and loved by Gen. Robert H. “Doc” Foglesong, commander of U.S. Air Forces in Europe.
As Foglesong took the microphone, he deadpanned, “Thank you, Lt. Matthews.”
The entire awards ceremony, held at the Eagles’ Landing officers club at RAF Lakenheath, was a festival of jokes and good-natured ribbing from guys known by names such as Smokin’ and Tater.
This seemed to please Foglesong, who said the competition, which he decided to resurrect barely two months ago, was as much about bonding as bombing.
“This ought to be a fun thing,” he said before the ceremony, which ended the two-day affair.
Squadrons from Aviano Air Base, Italy and Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany, joined with those from RAF Lakenheath, and two from the Royal Air Force to test their skills against each other at two training ranges in England. They were judged on accuracy, but also how well they stayed within given parameters as they dropped dummy bombs on a target.
The Top Gun crew was Capt. Ben “Thor” Heslin and 1st Lt. Mike “Trapper” Kelly from the 492nd Fighter Squadron at RAF Lakenheath. The top wing was the 31st Fighter Wing at Aviano, and the top flight was from the 510th Fighter Squadron at Aviano.
But Foglesong said everyone in the room was a winner in his eyes.
“This should be about aviators getting together with their maintainers and doing what we do best,” he said from the podium in Eagles’ Landing.
Before the ceremony, he said in an interview that the event was also good training.
“It’s not war, but it’s not every day training, either,” he said. “It’s bumped up the adrenaline.”
After the ceremony, Heslin, who is a pilot of an F-15E Strike Eagle, said, “It’s something we took seriously.”
But, he said, the best part of the event might be the chance for fighter pilots from various squadrons throughout USAFE to meet and exchange ideas and experiences.
Maj. Clinton Mixon, chief of F-15 programs for USAFE, agreed.
“That is a big part of it,” he said. “Even though we are one command, we are geographically separated.”
Foglesong’s hope is that the competition will become a staple in the USAFE schedule and will include aircraft from various European allies.
“Next year, we hope to expand the envelope a little more,” he said.