Some of the River Region’s Finest!
By KRISTI GATES
You know the sound of F-16 fighter jets. That unmistakable, reverberating roar as they fly by.
You know what they look like too. Sleek figures cutting across the sky, leaving white contrails behind as adults and kids alike watch in awe until they disappear over the horizon. Many around the River Region have seen them as part of a 187th Fighter Wing demonstration or flyover at a sporting event. But how many of us really know the impressive history and accomplishments of this unit based right here in Montgomery?
The 187th Fighter Wing is a unit of the Alabama Air National Guard and home to a squadron of F-16C Fighting Falcon aircraft. Its mission is to provide the nation with a superior F- 16 aviation package; an intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance platform; and expeditionary combat support functions organized, trained, and equipped for rapid worldwide combat deployment, domestic relief, and law enforcement operations.
When the wing is not mobilized or under federal control, it reports to the governor and provides protection of life and property and preserves peace, order, and public safety. These missions are accomplished through emergency relief support during natural disasters like Hurricane Katrina, search and rescue operations, support to civil defense authorities, maintenance of vital public services, and counterdrug operations.
The 187th Fighter Wing also carries one of the most honored legacies in the Air Force as it is home to the 100th Fighter Squadron. This squadron was the first of three created to train African-American fighter pilots in 1942, among them the revered Tuskegee Airmen. It was re-designated at the 187th in 2007 to honor the original WWII pilots, and today the wing is known as the “Red Tails” in honor of the Tuskegee Airmen.
Likewise, the squadron’s F-16s still sport the red tails that distinguished them from other squadrons. The history of the Tuskegee Airmen isn’t the only reason the 187th Fighter Wing has a notable reputation. Throughout its service, the wing has participated in a number of firsts that have positioned it as a pioneer and leading force in the Air National Guard.
In 2003, the 187th Fighter Wing deployed to an undisclosed Middle Eastern location as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom and led the largest integration of coalition air and special operations forces in history. A short time later in 2004, it became the first unit to use the GBU-38 Joint Direct Attack Munition in combat at the Battle of Fallujah. August 2009 marked the first deployment of the 100th Fighter Squadron to the Middle East, where more than 2,000 hours were flown, and precision guided munitions were employed. In 2014, the wing became the first Air National Guard unit to embark on a 6-month standalone deployment, dropping an estimated 221 weapons and firing more than 18,000 rounds. In addition, the 187th Fighter Wing has received praise and recognition from the highest levels of U.S. military leadership.
The unit enjoyed nineteen years and more than 55,000 flight hours without a Class A aircraft mishap and has received numerous Flight Safety awards from the Air Force Air Combat Command and the Air National Guard for its safety record. The unit has also been recognized by Air Combat Command JULY 2017 33 and the 9th Air Force Inspector General for excellence during Operational Readiness Inspections and Unit Compliance Inspections over the last two decades.
Leading the 187th Fighter Wing is a man just as accomplished as the unit itself. Colonel Randal K. Efferson became commander of the unit in January 2015. He received his commission in 1990 through the Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Tennessee and completed Euro-NATO joint jet pilot training at Sheppard AFB, Texas. There he was the top graduate earning the Air Education Training Command commander’s trophy, flying excellence award, and distinguished graduate honors. Efferson is a command pilot with more than 3,200 hours and multiple flying awards including five-time instructor pilot of the quarter, two-time instructor pilot of the year, and fighter pilot of the year. He is also an outstanding graduate and distinguished graduate from the USAF weapons instructor course.
Efferson’s career highlights include being selected as one of only two Air National Guard initial cadre F-35 instructor pilots, serving as the executive officer to the director of the Air National Guard, and participating in eight combat deployments. Efferson is the wing’s leading presence in its vast outreach and educational activities. The unit regularly participates in trainings and aerial demonstrations, and hosts displays of military aircraft for hands-on and interactive viewing.
Career opportunities are continuing to expand in aviation, and the wing also hosts events where attendees can learn about careers with and benefits of service in the Air National Guard. Many have most recently heard Efferson’s name attached to the 187th Fighter Wing’s efforts to secure the F-35 Joint Strike Fighters. Montgomery is in the hunt to become one of two units in the country to receive the new F-35s. To date, it is one of the five finalist cities, with a decision expected later this year and delivery slated sometime in 2022-2023.
If Montgomery is chosen, it would continue to grow the wing’s already impressive economic influence on the River Region. The 187th Fighter Wing has 344 full-time members, and 1,000 part-time, or traditional, guard members, according to the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce. In fiscal year 2015, its total impact was $72.5 million, including $11.83 million in operation and maintenance costs and $60.66 million in total pay and allowances.
Regardless of where the F-35s will be located, the 187th Fighter Wing truly stands mission ready for any type of emergency — whether local, state, national, or international – and boasts some of the besttrained airmen in the United States Air National Guard. There is no question that in addition to entertaining audiences of all ages, the wing brings significant military, economic, and cultural contributions to the River Region.