BAGRAM AIR BASE, Afghanistan - “A journey of a thousand miles
begins with a single step.”
Two thousand years after Chinese
philosopher Laozi recorded this phrase, Air Force Col. Henry Rogers
reached a similar figure as he stepped from his F-16 while deployed
to Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan.
Rogers, the 455th
Expeditionary Operations Group commander, not only surpassed 3,000
flying hours in the F-16 on Oct. 29, 2015 ... he then eclipsed 1,000 combat
hours in the venerable jet Nov. 6, 2015.
Col. Henry Rogers, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, salutes from the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a sortie with the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2015. Rogers reached the 3,000-flying hour milestone and 1,000 combat-hour milestone while serving on his eighth combat deployment flying F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)
“When I was a lieutenant, the only guys with 3,000 hours
were old guys that I honestly wondered how they could still
meet the physical and mental demands of flying fighters,” he
said. “I guess I am one of those guys now, even though I
don't feel that old.”
According to F-16 aficionado
websites, Rogers joins the ranks of fewer than 300 F-16
pilots worldwide to reach 3,000 hours and just a handful of
Viper drivers to reach 1,000 combat hours.
pilots have flown other airplanes throughout their careers,
but I've always been assigned to F-16 combat squadrons for
my flying assignments, so that means I've deployed a lot,”
he said. “But that's what we're here for.”
airframe in which Rogers has flown since graduating from
pilot training in 1994 has of course played a role in his
success, even 40 years after it started rolling off the
“The F-16 today is nothing like the
F-16 from its early years, but rather than producing a new
airframe, the F-16 constantly upgrades its software,
computing capacity, and weaponry,” he explained. “Today's
F-16 is an all-weather fighter loaded with technology –
night-vision, GPS, datalink, advanced air-to-air missiles,
Sniper targeting pod, satellite communications, and the
Helmet-Mounted Cueing System. It's an extremely capable
multi-role fighter and will be crushing the enemy for many
years to come.”
Rogers understands first-hand how
capable the F-16 can be as he is currently serving his
eighth combat deployment. He said that while no two people
have the same career, every path is interesting and unique.
He credits his family with always being there for him
throughout his career.
“It's our career diversity
that makes us collectively a much stronger fighting force,”
he said. “My wife and now my two boys have always been
beside me throughout my career and we have traveled this
journey together. Our definition of success is finishing
with no regrets with my family by my side.”
Col. Henry Rogers, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group
commander, perfoms pre-flight inspections on an F-16 Fighting Falcon
before a sortie with the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at
Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2015. Rogers reached the
3,000-flying hour milestone and 1,000 combat-hour milestone while
serving on his eighth combat deployment flying F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)
The colonel said that a work-hard, play-hard approach is
a common perception about his profession, but what people
see on television and in movies is not always reality.
“Fighter pilots are often romanticized, or stereotyped,
as guys who always push the envelope and maintain a college
fraternity lifestyle,” Rogers explained. “The fact is that
flying fighters is and has always been a dangerous business,
and thus we all take our job extremely seriously."
“There is always a new tactic or weapon to learn,” he added.
“Fighter pilots prove their worth by how well they know
their aircraft and tactics, their ability to complete the
mission despite the obstacles and threats, and by being a
professional officer and aviator—not by the antics you
always hear about or see in the movies.”
What is the
same as the movies, however, is the closeness of those who
are in the business of flying some of the world's fastest
and most advanced aircraft.
“All told, there is a
special camaraderie within the flying community and
especially amongst the fighter pilots who develop a bond of
trust and mutual respect due to the responsibility we carry
for each other and our personal actions,” he said.
When he was a lieutenant, Rogers said he was amazed at how
many flying stories the older guys had. Over time, he's
amassed a lot of stories of his own
Col. Henry Rogers, 455th Expeditionary Operations Group commander, takes off on a sortie in an F-16 Fighting Falcon with the 421st Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Air Field, Afghanistan, Nov. 27, 2015. Rogers reached the 3,000-flying hour milestone and 1,000 combat-hour milestone while serving on his eighth combat deployment flying F-16s. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Robert Cloys)
He said, “Some of them are funny, from harmless mistakes
that were embarrassing when told to the squadron the
following Friday; some are sad from friends lost due to
accidents; some frightening from being shot at by enemy
surface-to-air missiles; and there are a few ‘there I was'
stories from combat or even exciting training stories still
get my heart racing.”
But, the colonel explained,
exciting stories and the people who've lived them aren't
exclusive to the flying community.
“Flying in combat is often called
the ‘Tip of the Spear' when considering all of worldwide Air
Force operations and activities,” Rogers said. “We highlight
the tip of the spear because it is visible and exciting, but
everyone at Bagram, plus many staffs and home-station
Airmen, all form the critical team necessary to get our
airplanes in the air. Every Airman counts."
celebrate notable events such as 3,000 hours or 1,000 F-16
combat hours, but the reality is that every Airman has an
interesting story worth sharing,” he said. "All Airmen at
Bagram are operating at the tip of the spear.”
By U.S. Air Force Capt. Bryan Bouchard
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