Tag Archives: Airman 1st Class Kindra Stewart

Black Sheep Squadron Graduates 8 New Viper Pilots at HAFB

8th Fighter Squadron Logo

The 8th Fighter Squadron (Fighting Patch at left) has been with us since November of 1940, when it was first organized at Selfridge Army Air Field, in Michigan. Decommissioned for a while, it is now back in the front lines of our Air Defense against any would be adversaries.  This weekend saw its first graduating class of new F-16 Viper pilots since its arrival last year at Holloman Air Force Base, near Alamagordo, NM.  According to the Squadon’s commander, Lt. Colonel Mark Sletten, each of the evening’s graduates’ training has cost the Air Force about eight (8) million dollars.

The squadron is best known as the Black Sheep Squadron of World War II fame and  for one of its commanding officers, Colonel Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, one of WWII’s top USMC fighter Aces, whose memoirs inspired the 1970s television show “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” later syndicated as Black Sheep Squadron, which dramatized the squadron’s exploits during the war.

Although the original “Black Sheep” group was composed of USMC pilots, their Squadron no longer exists, so it’s been reborne, but this time as a USAF Fighter Squadron, not a USMC outfit. (This clarification the suggestion of Capt. Robbie Ritchie).

“These guys get to be a part of a very special fraternity and we have absolutely trained them up well to go out and be a part of that fraternity, the combat arms we know and love,” said Lt. Col. Mark Sletten, 8th FS commander.    “For them to be a part of the  greatest nation, the  greatest
military, greatest service and of course the greatest platform – the F-16, leaving here tonight as qualified F-16 pilots makes us all proud.”

Getting all of the people shown below properly identified could not have been done without the indispensible assistance of the Daedalian Leadership Awardee, Captain Robbie “Ramm” Ritchie,* who made sure we properly identified all those shown. Prior to this specialized fighter training with the 8th, Captain Ritchie had been an instructor pilot.  The name used for such already experienced new Basic students is FAIP, which stands for: First Assignment Instructor Pilot.   This prior duty assignment helps account for Robbie’s rank of Captain.

Remember: Click on any photo below to show it in hight resolution and full-size.

L to R: Lt. Col. Mark Sletten, Commander of the 8th Fighter Squadron, Colonel Bob Pitt and his wife, Julie.

L to R: Col. Pitt in conversation with Captain Ely Smith, the evening’s Master of Ceremonies

L to R: Roger Nichols, son of the WWII Ace after whom the El Paso Flight is named, Julie and Col. Pitt, and Dr. Bryan Harris, USAF Colonel, Retired.  Col. Harris, now a contractor,  is in charge of all the F-16 Viper Maintenance for the 8th Fighter Squadron

All long-time FASF members, Roger Nichols, immediate past Daedalian Flight 24 Captain, looks over the evening’s coming program with the Pitts

L to R: Julie and Col. Pitt with Roger Nichols

Many families attended the graduation and wives and girlfriends of both the 8th’s staff as well as graduating students, busily used their phones to record the celebration.  Above, to the the right of the Pitts is the wife of flight instructor, Major Jared Aschenbrenner, collecting memories of the event on her phone camera

Colonel Jeff (“Tank”) Patton, FASF Member, and Commander of the 49th Operations Group, poses with Nichols and Pitt.

View of part of the Dining Hall in the Holloman Club, at which the event was held

Colonel Jeff Patton and his wife, Tracy.

Photo on one of the several large projection screens, showing this Viper Fighter Class’ Students on an F-16’s wing

New Fighter Pilot Graduate, Captain Nicholas Atkins, gets the festivities underway

One of the classes’ distinguished graduates, Robert “Ramm” Ritchie, presented the award for the “Most valuable non-commissioned officer” to Master Sergeant Cope on behalf of its recipient, Sergeant Merril

L to R: Captain Ritchie presented the most valuable Flight Instructor award to Major Nathan “Stuka” Lightfoot

L to R: Colonel Bob Pitt describes the history of El Paso’s Flight 24, Order of the Daedalians and its Namesake, General Nick Nichols to the audience as 2nd Lt. Seth Bolon and Colonel Mark “Tyson” Sletten, Squadron Commander, look on.  Lt. Bolon is a member of the new incoming 8th Fighter Squadron class.

L to R: Capt. Ely Smith, MC, 2nd Lt Seth Bolon, look on as Col. Bob Pitt presents the General Nichols Daedalian Leadership Award to Capt. Robbie Ritchie, while Squadron CO., Col. Mark Sletten congratulates him on the achievement. Captain Ritchie will head to Shaw AFB, South Carolina for his next duty assignment.  His classmates are going to all corners of the globe for their new pilot assignments.

Colonel Pitt hands the Daedalian Award to Captain Robert Ritchie, as the 8th’s Commander, Col. Sletten, proudly poses beside the new awardee. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kindra Stewart).  Lt. Bolon in background

L to R: Colonel Miles “Cowboy” Crowell, with River Rat Awardee, Lt. Scott Lafferty, and fellow River Rat member, Colonel Jeff Patton. This award is given to the student of each class with whom his or her fellow pilots would most prefer to fly in combat.

L to R: Lt. Seth Bolon, looks on as Col. Sletten poses with Daedalian Trophy Winner, Capt Ritchie, as they hold his Graduation Certificate, while Captain Ian “Bear” Lee and Captain Allison “Bandit” Romanko, 8th Fighter Squadron Instructors, look on.  Eight Viper pilot students graduated from the 8th FS’ first F-16  B-Course, nearly eighty years since the squadron’s induction on Nov. 20, 1940.

All eight graduates line up on stage for their class graduation portrait. R to L:  Captain Daniel Rule, Captain Robert Ritchie, Captain Reese Black, Captain Bradley Beninati,  1st Lt. Evan Wade, 1st Lt. Scott Lafferty, 1st Lt. Kent Greer, and Captain Nicholas Atkins.

L to R: FASF and Daedalian Members, Ric Lambart, Roger Nichols and Col. Bob Pitt, flank Leadership Trophy winner, Capt. Robbie (“Ramm”) Ritchie

Roger Nichols discusses his father’s and his own USAF career with Leadership Awardee, Capt. “Ramm” Ritchie

Below, is the the class video, 11 minutes long, which shows many clips taken from the months of fllight and fighter training the eight members of this first graduating class of the 8th Fighter Squadron experienced in their work with the Viper Fighter.  Aside from a few inserts of actual wartime footage target anihilation (taken in the mideast), the video content was primarily taken by the students or HAFB Public Affairs videographers during their training activities.  The video gives the viewer and unique insight into the experience these young men went through this past year at Holloman. 

The film uses a number of special effects for the dramatization of some of the student experiences, such as refueling practice and of the TDY (Temporary Duty assignment) to Louisiana’s Bayou country.  The video was produced by class member, Lt. Evan Wade, and also shows, quite graphically, to where each of the graduates will be going for their front line fighter assignment.  This video can be seen best when your monitor is set to full-screen mode. Lt. Wade garners some top-gun kudos for his excellent production.

* Here is part of the official HAFB Public Affairs Office news release concerning Daedalian Award Recipient, Capt Robbie Ritchie:

This class’ recipient of the coveted Daedalian Flight 24 Leadership Award this
year, was Capt. Robert Ritchie. The Captain, one of the 8th Fighter Squadron F-16
Basic-Course graduates, always knew he wanted to be a fighter pilot.

Ritchie’s father is a retired Air Force pilot who flew C-130s and T-38s, before
flying for a commercial airline out of Minnesota.

I was one of those kids that built model aircraft and hung them from the ceiling,”
said Ritchie. “My childhood bedroom was one big aerial battle.”

Ritchie graduated with an undergraduate degree followed by a Masters of Science in
aerospace engineering from the University of Minnesota, before leaving for Officer
Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama.

Of the eight Viper pilots to graduate from Class 18-CBF, Ritchie was one of five who
were First Assignment Instructor Pilots “FAIP” trained on another aircraft before coming
to Holloman.

On behalf of Class 18-CBF, I can honestly say our experience training here on Holloman
Air Force Base has been one of the most professional experiences that we have ever been
involved with,” said Ritchie. “From the jets, to the instructors, to the maintainers,
to the air traffic controllers, how the base is run and everything in-between.”