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Eielson AFB activates second F-35 fighter squadron, conducts ‘elephant walk’ training exercise

Published: Dec. 22, 2020 at 4:17 PM AKST
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - Last Friday, Eielson Air Force Base held two special events to demonstrate to the community just what has been happening behind the scenes at the base. At the beginning of the day, members of the 354th Fighter Wing and the Alaska Air Guard’s 168th Wing conducted an ‘elephant walk.’ The rapid response training exercise was designed to show the 354th Fighter Wing’s ability to rapidly launch aircraft into the skies. Later they reactivated a historic fighter squadron.

“We wanted to do the ‘elephant walk’ in order to showcase to the community what we are doing here at Eielson with the addition of the F-35 mission,” said 354th Wing Commander Col. Dave (Ajax) Berkland.

The demonstration was made up of eighteen F-35s, twelve F-16s and two KC-135 refuel tankers. Col. Berkland said that it also shows how the base groups all work together to use their airpower in the most effective way possible.

Col. Berkland said the process was a tribute to all the men and women who work behind the scenes to ensure the base runs properly, “Another great example of the team that we are pretty proud of, and that goes all the way out to the community that [supports] the mission out here and makes sure that our airmen have places to live, places to dine in the community, places to worship, and that they are just fully integrated with the amazing community that supports us so well.”

Col. Berkland says the base continues to get new shipments of the fifth-generation fighter jet each month. By the end of 2021, Eielson Air Force Base will be home to two F-35 squadrons with a total of 54 jets. This will also bring an additional 3,500 personnel to the base to support the additional aircraft.

The arrival of the new jets was the reason for the second event of the day. Eielson Air Force Base also reactivated the 355th Fighter Squadron, which has been around since World War II. Col. Berkland said that the 355th got the first P-51 Mustang aerial victory in WWII; and with the squadron being reactivated with the newest fighters the USAF has, they are continuing their tradition of being on the cutting edge.

The 355th Fighter Squadron was deactivated after the A-10 Warthogs were moved from Eielson in 2007. Col. Berkland said the reactivation also signifies the large amount of growth happening at Eielson.

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