Luke AFB Supports Tenth Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial

  • Published
  • By Retired Col. John Reed
  • 56th Fighter Wing

A four-ship formation of Luke Air Force Base F-35s capped a dramatic ending to the Tenth Anniversary Memorial of the Granite Mountain Hotshots tragedy of June 30, 2013. The flyover was perfectly executed, timed to match the end of the National Anthem, and was a fitting tribute to this memorable, somber ceremony.

The Granite Mountain Hotshots, a group of Wildland firefighters, faced a radical change in winds that trapped them during the Yarnell Hill Fire. They bravely relied on their portable emergency fire shelters, but tragically, those shelters proved insufficient, resulting in the loss of their lives. The incident deeply affected the city of Prescott, where they were based, as well as Yarnell. Memorials in both locations commemorate their sacrifice in service to their community and the nation.

As the tenth memorial approached, the families of the Hotshots expressed their wish for a flyover during the ceremony. The request was forwarded to the U.S. Air Force, with support from 56th Fighter Wing Public Affairs, particularly TSgt. Matthew Davis. After navigating an involved approval process with Headquarters Air Force Public Affairs, final authorization was granted. The next challenge was finding a volunteer organization capable of carrying out this important mission.

To no one’s surprise, Luke AFB stepped up. Brig. Gen. Jason “Ox” Rueschhoff, commander of the 56th Fighter Wing, embraced and directed this flight. This is, of course, fell in line with the long tradition of Luke’s support of the local community and Arizona. The relationship between Luke and the local community are an unparalleled source of pride for all Luke members.

Capt. Mike “Stab” Stockwell was chosen to lead the mission that flew over the memorial. In preparation for this flight, Stab and his wife, Amanda, met with a member of the memorial committee and hiked the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park Trail. Many in this community are familiar with the trail and have hiked it. The walk gave the Stockwells a better perspective of the enormity of the tragedy, and how strongly it affected the citizens of Prescott and Yarnell. Additionally, they took the time to visit Prescott to see the venue, finding out where the dignitaries, such as Gov. Katie Hobbs, would sit, making plans for the flyover and meeting with other organizers of the event.

Along with wingmen Capt. Brian “Nova” Kane, Capt. Alex “Siphon” Travers and Maj. Gregory “Bluto” Sabol, they arrived “on time, on target,” just as the National Anthem ended. They were aided from the ground by Capt. Tim “Stomp” Neely, who kept track of timing discrepancies with the event. None of this would have been possible without the men and women of the 61st Aircraft Maintenance Unit, who worked tirelessly to prepare and launch the aircraft.

The flyover was very well received and appreciated by all who attended. The families, friends and colleagues of the Hotshots were especially moved and accolades were widespread. The city of Prescott, the town of Yarnell and the state of Arizona know that Luke AFB and the United States Air Force are terrific partners in this community. Stab and his flight, the Luke AFB aircraft maintainers and the many others that got this effort off the ground deserve considerable appreciation. The Luke AFB Team once again distinguished itself by the heartfelt and selfless support of this momentous occasion.

Well done!

Retired U.S. Air Force Colonel John “Deedle” Reed is a 1977 graduate of the United States Air Force Academy.  He was a career fighter pilot, flying the F-4Ds (RTU Luke, 1979), AT-38Bs, CF-18s and F-15Cs (Luke RTU 1987).  While flying CF-18s, he was a member of the Canadian William Tell Team and was Overall Top Gun at WT ‘86.  He was an F-15C mission commander during Operation Desert Storm. Reed is now a resident of Wickenburg, Arizona, where he regularly hikes the Granite Mountain Hotshots Trail and helped facilitate the flyover for tenth Anniversary Memorial. He and his wife Vonice have been  married for 42 years.