Earlier this year, Mayor Sharon Wolcott appointed me to Luke West Valley Council. As an Air Force Veteran myself, it is certainly an honor and a privilege to be part of this group. Luke West Valley Council promotes Luke Air Force Base as well as the F-35 Lightning II Fighter Jet pilot-training program and the continuation of their F-16 training mission.
When I left Vietnam, I was asked to list my stateside choices. Luke and Williams Air Force bases were my choices and I was assigned to Luke AFB in 1964. My military records had indicated that I had been involved in counter insurgency and while that was incorrect, it allowed me extra time on the Base. I remained at Luke until 1969 where afterwards, I was transferred to the Philippines on a two year accompany assignment. I returned to Luke AFB on a retirement assignment in 1974 so it is fair to say, I consider Luke my home.
Luke West Valley was formed in the 1980s to build regional and community support for Luke’s success in the region. The group is comprised of Luke AFB officials, elected leaders from 12 West Valley cities and Maricopa County, as well as representatives from Sun City and Sun City West. Its purpose is to discuss and address community issues, challenges and successes concerning Luke activities.
Recently Brigadier General Brook J. Leonard updated City Council on Luke AFB 56th Fighter Wing mission and activities.
The base was named after 2d Lieutenant Frank Luke Jr., a Phoenix native, Fighter Ace and the first airman to receive the Medal of Honor. He joined the Air Force during World War I. Lt. Luke was responsible for 13 confirmed kills during a 7-day combat period and 18 overall kills in Germany.
Thunderbolt Nation is comprised of four different locations – Luke AFB, Holloman AFB, Davis-Monthan AFB, Klamath Falls AFB. There are over 5,600 people as part of 56th Fighter Wing. Approximately 10,000 people come on and off the base on a daily basis. Lockheed Martin employs almost 400 civilian employees on the Base who take care of the F-35s. Between the 56th Fighter Wing and the 944th Fighter Wing (the reserve component), Luke AFB produces 66% of the World’s F-35 pilots and 97% of the F-16 pilots.
The partnerships that the Base forms with the community involves more than the West Valley. The Barry M. Goldwater Range in southern Arizona not only provides 4,300 square miles of restricted air space but 1.75 million acres of ground space for the Air Force to train.
The F-35 program at Luke AFB continues to expand! They just took possession of their 51st F-35 and plan to acquire a total of 144. They are now breaking ground on Ops 4 and Ops 5 and have plans for a total of six F-35 squadrons.
Fighter Country Partnership is a community and advocacy support group for Luke AFB that was founded in 1997. Fighter Country Partnership is a non-profit 501(4)c organization with a 501(c)3 foundation. FCP works to support the Airmen and families at Luke AFB focused on three primary areas: morale and welfare, culture and tradition and sustainability of the Luke mission. More than 300 people are part of FCP. Last year FCP provided more than $260,000 in, in-kind donations to the Airmen of Luke and hosted numerous events for the Airmen and families including a financial saving expo and appreciation dinners.
To say that Luke AFB is a regional economic driver is an understatement. The 4,200-acre base contributes an estimated $2 billion into the state economy on an annual basis and serves more than 100,000 servicemen and -women, military family members and veterans.
According to Brig. General Leonard, Luke AFB payroll is an estimated $448 million per year. The Base spends $52.7 million annually in local contracts, provides $2 million annually for education assistance and spends $276.7 million yearly on purchases. There are approximately 30,000 retirees within a 50-mile radius. Luke AFB spends $55 million a year on retiree payments. These figures should continue to increase.
In the words of our Air Force, history makes us smarter but our heritage makes us prouder. I hope this summary reflects the gratitude I have not only for Luke Air Force Base but all of our branches of military and our veterans!