The Vermont Air National Guard will mark the end of an era this weekend, with its 158th Fighter Wing scheduling the final flight for its F-16s for Saturday.
“There’s going to be tears,” said Master Sgt. Terry Tracy, who’ll say goodbye to the last of the F-16 fighter jets he helped maintain for more than 30 years. “It’s going to be an awesome departure for an awesome new beginning for the 158th.”
More than 20 jets have gradually been reassigned to other bases around the country because Vermont was chosen to start flying the F-35 Lighting II, which the military has called its future fighting force in the air.
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The F-35s are expected to arrive in Vermont this fall.
“I would say it’s bittersweet,” Lt. Col. Dan Finnegan, who will pilot one of the departing F-16s during Saturday’s farewell flights, said of the end of the era for the familiar jets.
F-16s first landed in Vermont in 1986.
Green Mountain Boys provided security in the skies following the 9/11 attacks, and have deployed for several overseas combat missions in the war on terror.
“When we look back at the 33 years, we’ve got a lot to be proud of,” Finnegan told necn.
Some in the Burlington area remain worried about what’s coming after the F-16s leave.
“Let’s celebrate the sound of silence now,” said retired Air Force Col. Roseanne Greco, who has long been critical of the F-35’s expected noise—and how that may impact the quality of life around the air base in South Burlington.
Greco also believes her concerns over the F-35’s safety weren’t given enough high-level attention.
“When you can’t question your government and the decisions they make and the military weapons systems they produce, we’re going down a really dangerous road,” Greco said.
Finnegan insisted he and colleagues will work to mitigate noise during F-35 training flights, to maintain good community relationships.
“We have over the years felt a significant amount of support from the communities,” Finnegan said.
For now, ahead of the F-16s’ final take-off, the Guard is thanking the hundreds and hundreds of men and women who’ve been a part of the 158th Fighter Wing’s mission for so long—and who’ll stay a part of it for the next chapter.