Prepared, vigilant and thankful

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. John Hughel
  • 142nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Like most kitchens around the nation on Thanksgiving Day; the turkey is carefully crafted, while potatoes are peeled, and other side dishes are being prepared. Yet the distinction can be found here at the Alert Facility this holiday, as Airmen of the 142nd Fighter Wing stand on station, safeguarding the Pacific Northwest as part of the Aerospace Control Alert mission.

The 142nd FW is one of fourteen alert sites positioned around the United States that fall under the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD), which conducts aerospace warning and control, as well as maritime defense of North America. The crew of two pilots and four maintainers working on Thanksgiving are part of an overall team that flies the F-15C Eagle, providing continuous defense 24/7.

"This is a case where it's a U.S. only holiday, so there is always that thought about possible threats," said Maj. Bradley M. Young, senior alert pilot for the Thanksgiving shift.

"Although this is not my actual family, this is my military family and we're able to interact well while still maintaining awareness of our mission," he said.

As Young is busy cutting the first of two turkeys, Tech. Sgt. Kyle Adair and Staff Sgt. Matthew Shelburne prepare potatoes and discuss traditions they would be celebrating if not on duty. In the background from an adjacent room, the reverberations of the TV, broadcasting the football game between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles hold a commanding early lead.

"Traditionally this time is spent with my family and friends at home. The only difference this year is not being at home with them," said Adair. "Hopefully, my fantasy football team wins; this has become one of my favorite traditions."

"I've been fortunate until now to be off on most major holidays," Shelburne remarked as he peeled a stack of large spuds. "But I am focused on getting the mission done, which is priority number one."

Whether it is a normal work shift or holiday, the staff implements a detailed routine of maintenance and operational procedures. Inspecting equipment, reviewing threat assessments, tracking weather forecast, and physical fitness training are just some of the activities that transpire throughout the shift period.

To remain in peak condition, Capt. Josh C. Pfeifer, a fighter pilot assigned to the 123rd Fighter Squadron, takes the opportunity to workout in the alert facility gym. He quietly goes through a route of lifting weights, and other conditioning exercises to maintain strength and flexibility, a necessary state to operate the supersonic Eagle. 

The duty schedule, G-forces and other demanding conditions can all add up and take their toll over time, Pfeifer explained. "Staying is shape is critical to what we do when we're flying these jet."

Even before 9/11, the need for sustained readiness for alert aircraft maintained by the 142nd Fighter Wing has an established history on base.

Beginning in October of 1958, the Oregon Air National Guard, flying the F-89 Scorpion, began provided 14-hour day shifts, 7 days a week to both supplement the 337th Fighter Group (AF) stationed at the Portland AFB and to increase the combat readiness of Air National Guard aircrews. The Air Force, flying the F-102 Delta Dagger, took the night watch during this phase. When the 337th inactivated in March 1966, the sole fighter-interceptors and full-time alert mission at Portland, Oregon, were transferred to the 142nd, which continues to the present-day.

"This is definitely way outside of the 'one weekend a month, two-weeks a year' that one hears about 'The Guard'," said Young.

Nearly 35 percent of the 142nd FW members are allocated to full time status.  Supporting the alert mission requires the sacrifice of support staff on base as Fire Department, Security Forces and Command Post Airmen also work around-the-clock.

Young reiterated the unique role of this National Guard assignment, "As most people would not equate the two together, but it is part of the mission and that's why we are here on duty today."

As the requirements of the mission have increased the facilities have grown with the workload. The current alert facility opened in March of 1990 after being moved from the long-standing north end of the ramp to its current residency now at the east end of the base. This month construction began on a third hangar to assure the posture of additional aircraft into the future.

Walking around the flight line, Master Sgt. Ronald Green paused to observe one of the vehicles used to tow aircraft and commented on the eventual addition of the new hangar.

"This will make our jobs easier as we consolidate more of our resources," he said.

Like many of his fellow Airmen, Green will not have his family around for the holiday meal but noted, "I'll enjoy my time with my co-workers and we will have plenty of great food."

Over time, as the Airmen of the 142nd Fighter Wing have passed down the legacy of safeguarding the Pacific Northwest, a concept reflected in the shared sacrifice that comes with defending the nation as a whole.

Pausing to summarize his sentiment for the Airmen on duty this Thanksgiving holiday, Young stressed, "It's not just a job and a paycheck; it is the opportunity to serve our nation on a holiday, which reinforces how much we love our country and everything we have to be thankful for each day."