308th FS rich history, poignant ending

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Christopher Bacon
  • 308th Fighter Squadron
After 21 years of continuous service as an F-16 Fighter Squadron at Luke Air Force Base, the 308th Fighter Squadron, recently recognized the 2014 Top Fighter Squadron in the 56th Operations Group, will close its doors this summer.

Given this sad fact, it is only appropriate that this week's Thunderbolt commentary focus on this highly decorated and professional organization of warfighters.

Initially established under the 3rd Air Force in early 1942 as a fighter squadron at Baer Field, Indiana, the 308th FS deployed to the European Theater of Operations in June 1942. Interestingly, the squadron deployed without aircraft since its P-40s and P-39s were deemed unsuitable for use against German aircraft in long-range bomber escort duties.

There, the unit was re-equipped with Royal Air Force Spitfire Mk Vs and its pilots and technicians spent a two-month period undergoing intensive training, flying and fighting with RAF pilots in the British aircraft from airfields in southeast England. The squadron flew its first combat mission Aug. 18, 1942, when it attacked enemy positions in occupied France.

The squadron was assigned to the new 12th Air Force and deployed to Gibraltar in November 1942 as part of the Operation Torch invasion forces, initially operating from former Vichy French airfields in Algeria. They advanced east across Algeria and Tunisia during the North African Campaign, supporting the 5th U.S. Army which halted Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's advance on allied positions. One of the highlights of the 308th's time in North Africa was its selection to provide combat air patrols for the arrival of President Franklin Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill at the Casablanca conference in Morocco.

Spitfires from the squadron provided support for Allied Forces as the Invasion of Italy began with the capture of Sicily, and later the landings by Allied forces in Fascist Italy, moving north supporting the 5th Army during the Italian Campaign. As Allied bomber forces operating from Italy began the strategic bombing of Axis petroleum and communications facilities in central Europe and the Balkans, the squadron was re-equipped with the North American P-51 Mustang to replace the shorter-ranged Spitfire. In August 1944, the P-51s were involved in the invasion of Southern France and in December 1944, the first destruction of a German jet fighter by a 308th P-51 occurred. The 308th FS ended the war with 184.5 aerial victories to its credit, making 12 fighter aces in the process.

On Feb. 8, 1964, the 308th Tactical Fighter Squadron flew a nonstop mission from Homestead AFB, Florida, to Cigli Air Base, Turkey, with F-100 Super Saber aircraft. The 6,600-mile trip required eight in-flight refuelings and set a new record for the longest mass flight of jet aircraft to cross the Atlantic. This historic event also led to the wing receiving the Tactical Air Command Outstanding Fighter Wing Award for 1964, the second consecutive
year it won that prestigious award.

The 308th TFS then deployed to Southeast Asia in 1964 as part of advisory forces operating against North Vietnamese and National Liberation Front forces in South Vietnam. For its efforts in Southeast Asia from Dec. 16, 1966, to Oct. 15, 1970, the 308th was awarded the Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross with Palm, also winning the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with combat "V" device.

Now equipped with the F-4E Phantom, the 308th deployed to Thailand in July 1972 engaging North Vietnamese forces in northern South Vietnam in response to the communist spring offensive and returned to the U.S. in late fall.

In 1988, the squadron traded in their F-4s for F-16 Fighting Falcons at Homestead AFB, evacuated to Moody AFB in the face of Hurricane Andrew in 1992 and finally found a permanent home at Luke in 1994.

The 308th ranks 10th as the most highly decorated unit in Air Force history among the 152 fighter squadrons that were ever active. With a long and distinguish service record dating from 1942, it has seen combat service around the world from Southeast Asia to Europe.

Today, the 308th FS Emerald Knights, continue the tradition of excellence, training the world's greatest F-16 pilots and deploying combat-ready Airmen ... Knight Standard! The squadron is comprised of the most experienced and pre-eminent F-16 instructor pilots and support personnel the Air Force has to offer. As a unit, the squadron boasts 44 highly competent instructor pilots, three world-class aviation resource managers, four aircrew flight equipment specialists, 18 F-16 student pilots and 28 top-of-the-line Block 42 F-16 CG aircraft.

Incredibly, as a unit, the pilots of the 308th FS have a combined total of 61,980 flight hours, including 17,092 instructor hours, 8,364 night vision goggle hours and 1,114 evaluator hours. Steeped in a rich tradition of war, the current cadre of Knight pilots accumulated a combined total of 8,151 hours of combat time, ranging from Operation Allied Force in the late 1990s to present day engagements throughout the Middle East against the Islamic State in Levant.

As we begin the process of deactivation, hearts heavy in the knowledge we must soon bid a farewell to our beloved Round Table, it has been my distinct humble pleasure to lead the men and women of the 308th FS for the last two years. Knights Prevail ... Strength and Honor!

Excerpts of the history provided by the Luke AFB History office and Wikipedia.