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Commander's Commentary: Congrats to pilot training graduates

Brig. Gen. Craig McPike joins pilot training graduates from the 99th Flying Training Squadron at JBSA-Randolph, Sept. 2, 2021.

Brig. Gen. Craig McPike joins pilot training graduates from the 99th Flying Training Squadron at JBSA-Randolph, Sept. 2, 2021.

Comments from Brig. Gen. Craig McPike to pilot training graduates from the 99th Flying Training Squadron at JBSA-Randolph, Sept. 2, 2021: 

I’d like to congratulate all of you today on the accomplishment of becoming an Air Force Pilot and earning your wings. There have been many ways military pilots have earned their wings over the years. From the Army Air Corps training programs in the early 1900s, to civilian pilot training schools in the 1940s, to Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT), to Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program, to Specialized UPT, to the new Civilian Path to Wings, to what you experienced here known as Accelerated Path to Wings. 

Everyone who goes through pilot training thinks their program was the hardest and everyone else should have to complete that same program. In my research, I discovered that beginning in 1939, the Army contracted with nine civilian flying schools to provide primary flying training, while Randolph handled basic training. Kelly Field and Brooks Field took care of advanced flying training. In July 1939, the full course of flying instruction was shortened in length from a year to nine months. The number of primary contract schools expanded to 41 by the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. At one point during WWII 64 contract schools conducted primary flying training. During the course of the war, the schools graduated approximately 250,000 student pilots. All of the Civilian Flying Schools were inactivated by the end of the war.

Also during this time, on March 21st, 1941, the Air Corps activated the 99th Pursuit Squadron, which became the first squadron of what became the renowned Tuskegee Airmen. On March 7th, 1942, the first African-Americans to become military pilots received their wings at Tuskegee FieldAlabama. Once enough graduates were available the 100th, 301st, 302d, and the 99th, they were formed into the 332d Fighter Group

In April 1943 the unit deployed to French Morocco in North Africa.  As the war progressed the 332d's squadrons established an enviable combat record. On July 11th 1944, P-51 Mustangs from the 332d Fighter Group shot down 18 enemy fighters while flying escort for a large bomber formation. On March 24th, 1945, while escorting B-17 Flying Fortresses during a raid on a tank factory in Berlin, the 332d's pilots downed three German jet fighters. For their actions, the 332d and three of its squadrons earned Distinguished Unit Citations

You should be proud of the fact that you are a part of that legacy, and know that you have incredibly large shoes to fill. Now Reserve Citizen Airmen, are a bit distinct from our Regular Air Force or Active Component teammates in that 70% of us are part time. However Reserve Citizen Airmen perform the same missions, and maintain the same operational capabilities when augmenting the Regular Air Force. We provide a strategic depth with our experience, and a surge capacity with our added end strength. We provide humanitarian and natural disaster relief, we are present in every major combat operation and we are deployed in support of all six combatant commanders. Reservists and Guardsmen share a willingness to serve and be called to duty when our nation needs our capabilities.    

You all saw it on the news recently as our Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard aircraft played a role in the Afghanistan non-combatant evacuation operation. Specifically, the Air Force Reserve Command contributed 17 aircraft including C-17s, C-130s, C-5s, and KC-10s with 73 aircrews and hundreds of maintenance, security, medical and support personnel participating in the effort.

I’d like to quote our Air Force Reserve Commander, Lt. Gen. Richard Scobee who recently said, our Air Force Reserve Airmen worked with active duty, Guard and Reserve crews and we are the only nation capable of providing this level of rapid deployment of forces providing nonstop airlift operations on this scale. And it would not have been possible without the support of our total force — active, guard and reserve citizen airmen — seamlessly integrating to execute the mission. 

Once again, our Air Force Reservists and Guardsmen are proudly answering our nation's call, responding in less than 24 hours. Remember, nearly 60% of America's mobility capacity resides in the air reserve component, underscoring the importance of a total force approach.  

Also, I must remind you that none of this would be is possible without air refueling. In front of each of those airlifters, bombers, fighters, gunships, and reconnaissance aircraft, are tankers orbiting overhead ready to refill empty gas tanks. I can tell you there is no better feeling than to pull up behind a tanker, when you know you don’t have enough fuel to make it to your destination.  The tanker crews are unsung heroes in every conflict.  There’s a reason we all say, no one kicks ass without tanker gas.  No other nation has an air refueling capacity like the United States. It’s a force multiplier and enables the US to project power anywhere in the world in a matter of hours.  Our tanker force provides the ability for our strategic nuclear bombers to be able to reach their targets, which in turn provides strategic nuclear deterrence as part of our nuclear triad. I cannot put enough emphasis on how critical our tanker force is to allow the US to project power, provide air space superiority, defend the homeland, and to be able to allow the DoD to compete, deter, and win in contested environments.             

One constant in our history has been the dedication of our Airmen to service before self, and it remains that way today. Your dedication to the ability to balance the needs of your civilian jobs and your families with your commitment to service will be a testament to your success. You are America’s secret weapon, standing ready to protect our way of life. You are a sentinel against evil, a guardian of freedom, and a protector of liberty. 

As a Total Force, we go forward so that others may live, to defend those who cannot defend themselves, to provide hope, and if necessary, carry out justice. Americans look to us to provide security, protection, safe harbor, safe passage, and when needed, eliminate enemies who pose threats. We have sworn to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.  We enforce and obey the laws of the Uniform Code of Military Justice. We engage with our enemies using principals and guidelines from the Geneva Convention. And we fight as a joint force drawing our strength and operational guidance from our National Defense Strategy, which states, “The Department of Defense’s enduring mission is to provide combat-credible military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of our nation. Should deterrence fail, the Joint Force is prepared to win. Reinforcing America’s traditional tools of diplomacy, the Department provides military options to ensure the President and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.”

That is who we are and what we stand for. Today you join our formation and become a valuable part of the mission. The DoD would not be able to complete its objectives without you. Very few people can do what you can do. Very few people can endure what you have endured. Thank you for stepping up and volunteering to serve, thank you for enduring the training, thank you for sharing your talents with the United States Air Force. We are fortunate to have you and thankful for your service. Good luck to you, and don’t forget to pay it forward and remember those who have gone before you. 

May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America. Thank you.