In preparation for the arrival of the first of its F-35s next spring, Eielson Air Force Base has reactivated the 356th Fighter Squadron and named its new commander.
Lt. Col. James Christensen will lead the 356th, the first of two combat fighter squadrons coming to the base, according to an Oct. 10 news release. The first of 54 F-35 Lightning IIs is scheduled to arrive in April 2020, with the rest following over two years. A number of personnel dedicated to the F-35s have already arrived.
“The 356th FS is reactivating to bring F-35As out to the Pacific Theater,” Christensen said in the news release. “Looking back at the squadron history, the 356th Tactical Fighter Squadron was previously stationed in the Pacific for both the Vietnam conflict and to defend Korea and Japan out of Kunsan Air Base and Misawa Air Base, respectively. We are excited to bring the squadron back to the INDOPACOM theater.
For a number of years, the 354th Fighter Wing’s primary mission has been to train combat aviators, notably through Red Flag-Alaska. That training includes joint offensive counter-air, interdiction, close-air support and large force employment training in a simulated combat environment. So, the reactivation of the 356th FS represents a milestone as wing air assets return to operational combat status, according to the news release.
“The 354th FW has done an amazing job preparing for the arrival of the F-35,” Christenson said. “The transition to a combat force-provider mindset is what we will all get to learn together.”
Meanwhile, the community is bracing for a large influx of airmen and families.
The Eielson Air Force Base Regional Growth Plan concluded that 532 new housing units around North Pole would be needed by 2022 to accommodate normal growth and demand by F-35 families. New base housing is not being built.
A federal government study concluded that a total of 974 units, either existing or new, on base and off, would be needed to house F-35 personnel and their families.
“Lt. Col. Christensen is absolutely the right leader, in the right place, at the right time to bring the combat Air Force mission back on line at Eielson Air Force Base,” said Col. David Skalicky, 354th Operations Group commander, according to the release. “Standing up the wing’s combat mission [with] the most advanced fighter aircraft the world has ever seen, preparing the whole 354th ops, maintenance, logistics, mission support and medical enterprise to fight anywhere on the globe, and being ready to project that combat power from one of the most strategic locations on the planet is an honor, a burden and a once in a lifetime opportunity all rolled into one.”