“That noise you hear is the sound of freedom.”
That motto belongs to the fighter jets at the Marine Corps Air Station in Beaufort; but it also applies to the F-16 pilots of the 20th Fighter Wing at Shaw Air Force Base, who are constantly training in the blue skies over Sumter.
The 20th is the largest and most active F-16 unit in the U.S. Air Force. It has roots in World War I, was formed in World War II and has fought in every major U.S. conflict since.
The F-16’s main mission is to suppress land targets, be they radar installations or tanks on the ground. It is one of the most dangerous jobs in the air.
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The wing consists of the 55th Fighter Squadron (“Fighting Fifty-Fifth”), 77th Fighter Squadron (“The Gamblers”) and the 79th Fighter Squadron (“The Tigers”).
The 20th Fighter has placed huge roles in Desert Storm, and has often been the “tip of spear” in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The 77th was deployed to Jordan last year to participate in Operation Inherent Resolve, bombing targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. They returned earlier this year from the six-month deployment after losing a pilot who crashed after takeoff.
Another squadron is expected to be deployed soon, perhaps to the same region.
In the meantime, the three squadrons are all home – a rare occurrence. And they are all training.
That noise you hear ...