It had to be a bittersweet moment on June 30, 2010 when Col. David “Kooler” Krumm took over command from Col. Jeffrey “Cobra” Harrigian of the 49th Wing at Holloman Air Force Base, N.M.
The 49th has a long tradition as one of America’s premier fighter groups. In the South Pacific in World War II, it produced America’s top air aces, P-38 Lightning pilots Maj. Richard I. Bong and Capt. Thomas McGuire. In Korea, F-84 Thunderjets of the 49th pounded enemy installations in air-to-ground strikes.
Krumm and Harrigian represent the new generation of top fighter pilots, fliers who logged cockpit time in the F-22 Raptor superfighter early, helped develop it, field it, and train its pilots, and must have regarded command of an F-22 wing as the ultimate top job in the fighter business. When they were younger, both lived the dream: a robust U. S. Air Force would have 381 Raptors in ten, 24-plane expeditionary squadrons with extras for training and weapons work. They were out on the cutting edge and were still focused on the F-22’s advanced capabilities even after Defense Secretary Robert Gates persuaded Congress and industry to reduce the total “buy” to just 187 airplanes.
In all other respects, too, the combat wing that Krumm inherited was high-tech: It had become a showcase for the remotely piloted aircraft so in favor in Gates’ Pentagon. In addition to two squadrons of F-22s, the 49th Wing had two squadrons of MQ-9 Reapers, and one of MQ-1B Predators. While the rest of the Air Force is struggling to “make do” with aircraft that are older than their pilots, Krumm became the owner of all-new or nearly new aircraft.
That was before.
On July 29, the Pentagon announced that it would deactivate Holloman’s two F-22 squadrons, the 7th and 8th Fighter Squadrons. Both have distinguished histories and began operating the F-22 in June 2008.
The Air Force will deactivate one of the squadrons and transfer the other. The move will consolidate the F-22 fleet at four bases – Elmendorf in Alaska, Langley in Virginia, Nellis in Nevada, and Tyndall in Florida.
“This plan maximizes combat aircraft and squadrons available for contingencies,” said Kathleen Ferguson, Air Force deputy assistant secretary for installations. “By consolidating aircraft at existing bases, F-22 operational flexibility is enhanced.”
The Air Force also announced that Holloman would not be chosen as a bed-down location for the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter.
Krumm’s few comments to local press near Holloman haven’t been explicit about the loss of the Raptors. He declined to be interviewed for this article. Still, it is easy to imagine that one of the Air Force’s premier F-22 pilots might be disappointed at being an F-22 wing commander so briefly. He did tell reporters: “I understand that change is sometimes hard to accept.”
The 49th Wing will retain the 29th Attack Squadron “Ghost Warriors” (MQ-9), 16th Training Squadron (MQ-9) and 6th Reconnaissance Squadron (MQ-1B), all of which stood up in October 2009. In 2012, Holloman is slated to acquire the 11th Reconnaissance Squadron (MQ-1B), to be transferred from Creech Air Force Base, Nev. Holloman will become the formal training unit (FTU) that prepares airmen to operate the Reaper and Predator.
The Pentagon’s announcement sought to reassure the community around Holloman with the news that the base would soon receive two F-16 Fighting Falcon squadrons and would inherit the FTU mission for the F-16. One local press wag called this a “consolation prize.” Local leaders including Krumm, Rep. Harry Teague, Gov. Bill Richardson and Alamogordo Mayor Ron Griggs all put a smiley face on the news by insisting that the transition from F-22 to F-16 would mean more jobs and greater prosperity for the region. One public official said that the FTU mission would result in more military people appearing in town temporarily, filling hotels and restaurants.
Local residents didn’t seem to be buying it. One long-time Alamogordo retiree said the departure of the F-22s was “bittersweet” and “sad.” The Air Force hasn’t announced when the vaunted Raptor will finally fly away from what had been its newest base, but observers expect the two squadrons to be gone in the coming months.