The 115th Fighter Wing’s drive to accelerate, change or lose couldn’t be more pronounced as they continue their transition from the F-16 Fighting Falcon to the F-35 Lightning II. Out of five installations across the U.S where Wisconsin Guardsmen are training, the 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard provides a truly unique experience compared to the other units. In preparation for the arrival of the F-35 in spring of 2023, approximately 25 Wisconsin Air National Guardsmen have volunteered to be the first Airmen to receive advanced training at U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard facilities.
“As the first Air National Guard unit to receive the F-35 we didn’t have the kind of luxury training your Airmen are receiving. It’s truly a unique feature that as Guardsmen you get to learn what it’s like to operate this 5th generation fighter as a guard unit and take that experience home,” said Chief Master Sgt. Mark Winger, the 158th Maintenance Group superintendent, Burlington Air National Guard Base, Vermont.
“I’m excited to come back and spread the wealth of knowledge we’ve gained here with all the other maintainers that went to active-duty units. Once we get home the plan is for all the maintainers to sit down together and hash out what we saw differently at all the locations to determine the best practices for the 115th,” said Staff Sgt. Marcel Emond.
As first F-35 Lightning II is slated to arrive in just under a year, it’s up to these volunteer Wisconsin Air National Guardsmen to ensure that the wing is trained and fully prepared for the arrival of the 5th Generation fighter. With such a vast group of volunteer Airmen spread out across the country, the 115th Fighter Wing will benefit from each of the five units unique training capabilities allowing the Airmen to determine what works, what doesn’t and what will be the overall best for the wing. After all, it will be the job of these volunteer Airmen to train their wingmen once they return home. Volunteering to be the first ones training on the F-35 shows Airmen’s willingness to accelerate change and adapt to new things.
The 115th Fighter Wing is a unit of the Wisconsin Air National Guard, which is stationed at Truax Field Air National Guard Base, Madison, Wisconsin. If activated to federal service, the Wing is gained by the United States Air Force Air Combat Command. As an Air National Guard unit, it is normally under the command of the Governor, but has a federal role as well. Currently the wing has personnel and/or aircraft assigned to Operation Noble Eagle, Operation Jump Start and regularly serves with the Air Expeditionary Force in Iraq and Afghanistan. Today the wing is capable of air-to-air, close air support and precision guided bombing missions. In December 2017, the Air Force announced that the 115th was one of two Air National Guard wings selected for equipping with the Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II. The conversion to the fifth-generation jet fighter is scheduled for 2023.