This post was written – and photographed – by Colonel (Ret) Mario Campos (L), current Captain of Daedalian Flight 24 in El Paso, TX, all of which members are also members of the FASF.
On 22 April 2023, members of the 24th Flight attended the 314th Fighter Squadron’s F-16 graduation ceremonies for Class 22-DBH from Holloman AFB, NM.
The evening’s guest speaker was Col Leonard “Lucky” Ekman, USAF (Ret) (below) who logged over 4100 hours in fighter aircraft with 1600 of those being combat hours in 287 missions over Vietnam in F-105 and F-105G Wild Weasels. His “luck” extended during a mission over Vietnam where he was shot down and successfully rescued. Col Ekman retired in 1990 as the Vice Commander of the 16th Air Force. An avid glider pilot, he has his sights set on completing 1000 glider hours soon. Amongst Col Ekman’s greatest accomplishments are that both his son and daughter were also fighter pilots. (To see the above US Air Force Academy photo full size, just click on it)
Col Ekman spoke about tactical call signs and their evolution. He mentioned how today’s fighter pilots get their call signs and how many would be embarrassed to give the real story of how they were given to them. He mentioned that early in Vietnam, personal call signs didn’t exist and were really a daily rotating call sign given to a flight that pilots would sometimes forget. He explained that a strike package (mission attack plan) could exist of numerous types of aircraft and if someone called “Lead, Break Right,” many would respond “Say Call Sign” because of the confusion caused by not knowing the daily call sign. After attending the Navy’s Top Gun Course where he apparently first witnessed the Navy tradition of each fighter pilot having his own personal call sign or “handle,” he saw the practical need for these individual tactical call signs that could be easily remembered. Col Ekman then implemented this Navy tradition when he became a Squadron Commander.
Col Ekman concluded by congratulating the new fighter pilots and reminding them to enjoy the call signs they’ve received – or will end up with – because they’ll contribute to some great memories.
During ceremonies, the 24th Flight’s senior-most member, Col. Bob Pitt (R), proudly presented Maj Gen Franklin A. Nichols Daedalians Leadership Award to Captain Matthew “WOB” Lee (L) who will go on to fly F-16 Vipers at Kunsan AB, Korea. Below, at right are Captain Lee, his mother, Mrs. Lee, and Col. Pitt.
In another reunion moment for a member of the 24th Flight, Class 22-DBH’s Distinguished Graduate was Capt Barry “Mutombo” MacNeill (below left) who happens to be the son of Barry “Bear” McNeill, a former F-4G Weasel EWO (Electronic Weapons Officer) and F-15E WSO (Weapons System Officer).
Bear had an outstanding career in the Air Force including Squadron and Operations Group Commander in the 98th Range Wing at Nellis AFB and Deputy Director of the Air Force Joint Test and Evaluation Program where he retired from the Air Force. Bear is now Vice President at Amentum Corp. Bear and current 24th Flight Captain Mario Campos were both Instructor EWOs at the 453d Flying Training Squadron at Mather AFB, CA in the late 80s. Bear also served with 24th Flight Member Lt Col (Ret) Miles “Cowboy” Crowell in the F-15E! Cowboy (at R below) was at the event to present the Red River Rats Association Award to Lt Matthew “Minnie” Dunlap.
The 24th Flight congratulates the eleven newest fighter pilots of Class 22-DBH and wishes them only the very best in their future careers. The Flight would also like to thank 314 FS Commander, Lt Col Kirby “Fuel” Sanford and his outstanding staff for hosting the members of the 24th on this momentous occasion.
All members of the 314th shouted out their squadron’s slogan, “Strike,” as the event came to a close.