Squadron departs on final deployment

CNJ staff photo: Andy DeLisle F-16s from the 522nd Fighter Squadron sit on the fight line Sunday at Cannon Air Force Base.

By Tonya Fennell: CNJ staff writer

More than half a dozen Cannon Air Force Base pilots donned flight gear early Sunday morning in preparation for their final deployment from the 27th Fighter Wing.

The pilots are members of the 522nd Fighter Squadron, which is also known as the Fireballs.

The pilots are part of a large group of airmen who will spend approximately four months in an undisclosed Pacific theater location, according to Cannon Public Affairs spokesperson Lt. George Tobias. Tobias declined to divulge the exact number of airmen or the specific location of the deployment for safety reasons.

“Obviously, we can not give that information at this time because safety (for our airmen) is paramount,” Tobias said.

Tobias said Sunday’s deployment marks the last major deployment before the 27th Fighter Wing is inactivated Sept. 30. The Air Force Special Operations Command will assume command of the base Oct. 1.

Upon its return, the 522nd Fighter Squadron will be inactivated, Tobias said. The Fireballs will be the second squadron to be inactivated. The 523rd Fighter Squadron, or Crusaders, was inactivated May 9.

522nd Fighter Squadron Commander Lt. Col. Tod Fingal described the final deployment as bittersweet.

“The 27th Fighter Wing has a legacy at Cannon,” Fingal said, “but the transition to AFSOC is great for west Texas, New Mexico and the Air Force.

Fingal, who has been based at Cannon for four years, said Cannon airmen will train with foreign allies and other military services during the deployment.

“We (Cannon airmen) have been training for this deployment for a year,” Fingal said, “including two exercises at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Nev.”

Fingal said the hardest part of the trip is leaving family behind.

“Our guys and gals are ready for this deployment,” Fingal said, “and our families know how important our job is.”