Guard Bureau Chief returns to roots for Florida F-16 dedication
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (Oct. 6, 2009) – Twenty years ago Maj. Craig “Mustang” McKinley was flying the F-16 Fighting Falcon in the skies over Northeast Florida.
As an F-16 instructor pilot at the Florida Air National Guard’s 125th Fighter Wing he helped train a force of pilots ready to counter airborne threats from the Soviet military, and protect a nation during the last years of the Cold War.
On Sunday, Oct. 4, the lasting legacy of the F-16 fighter jet was remembered when that major – now Chief of the National Guard Bureau Gen. Craig R. McKinley – returned to help dedicate a static display at the entrance of the 125th’s base at the Jacksonville International Airport.
Gen. McKinley was joined by current and former members of the 125th Fighter Wing to unveil the display, which was set on a solid, black pedestal and angled to simulate the F-16 taking off. The display also featured Gen. McKinley’s name on the right side under the canopy, to commemorate his service to the Florida Air National Guard and his years as an F-16 pilot.
The static display was dedicated to the men and women of the 125th Fighter Wing who flew, maintained, and supported operations of the F-16 from 1987 until 1995 when the unit converted to F-15 Eagles.
“The Florida Air National Guard has always had a great legacy of flying single-seat, single-engine fighters, and the F-16 was a fourth-generation fighter built to be an opposition fighter to the former Soviet Union fighter force,” the general explained. “It is a great airplane and it’s a very agile aircraft. It’s one that served this unit and our nation very well.”
Gen. McKinley joined the 125th Fighter Wing as an F-106 alert pilot in 1980 and rose through the ranks to become commander of the unit, serving until 1996.
“To come back here, this is where my roots are, this is where my friends are,” he explained. “I was born in Jacksonville; it’s just an honor and a privilege.”
Adjutant General of Florida Maj. Gen. Douglas Burnett explained that the F-16 static display was another opportunity to “capture a legacy of history for a great organization” which has been on alert since 1958. He said that although the F-16 was one of the key interceptors in the 1980s, the people who worked on, supported, and actually flew the aircraft made the real difference.
“The prowess and might of this great nation is not about a weapons system; it is about our people – the will, the spirit, the patriotism of the American people,” Maj. Gen. Burnett added.
Master Sgt. Michael Ramsey, who served at the 125th Fighter Wing during the heydays of the F-16 Fighting Falcon performed the actual unveiling of the display by pulling an orange drone parachute from the nose of the aircraft.
“I was here when we had F-16s, and it gives us a lot of pride just to put this up there and to work on an F-16 again,” he said, explaining that it took an entire day to hoist the F-16 from the ground onto the pedestal. “There’s a lot of nostalgia (and) there’s a lot of memories for the guys who worked on it.”