On the northern end of the Tucson airport, off of East Valencia Road, is a great Tucson story. Morris Air National Guard Base and the 162nd Air National Guard Wing live there.
To learn about the 162nd, I met with Brig. Gen. Andrew J. MacDonald, commander of the wing, and Capt. Mary Hook, 162nd Wing public affairs.
Here’s some facts about the 162nd that may surprise you (I know they surprised me):
The 162nd is the largest F-16 training base in the world. It has trained pilots from 28 nations; currently, over 50 American and international pilots are being trained.
They have one of the largest contingents of F-16 fighter jets in the world, with more than 80 F-16 aircraft on base.
The base employs over 1,900 people. This places it in the upper echelon of employers in Tucson. In 2014, the base had a $383 million impact on the Tucson economy and a $94 million payroll.
The 162nd is an active platform for the MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft program.There are six different technology/aerospace platforms tested and supported on the base.
MacDonald explains the 162nd’s three-pronged mission:
This part of the mission is fulfilled with the F-16 training base and the MQ-9 remotely-piloted aircraft program. They prepare U.S. and allied pilots around the world.
They fly MQ-9 missions around the world.Homeland Security: The wing patrols the skies in Arizona and across the U.S. This part of its mission was cited as the “Best Alert Unit” in the country.
Partnership: The wing has established relationships with many international partners, providing pilot training, maintenance support and other military training.
All of the above is what they do, and I found it pretty cool to learn that all of this is right here in Tucson. However, what I found most impressive during our conversation is the answer MacDonald gave when asked about his thoughts on the impact the 162nd has on Tucson.
“We are them,” MacDonald said, using this succinct phrase to describe the 162nd and its place in the Tucson community. “We are part of and integral to Tucson.”
Most of the National Guard personnel are residents of the greater Tucson community. Approximately 55 percent of the 1,900-plus employees are full-time base personnel. The remaining employees are “weekend warrior” Guardsmen, working part-time with the 162nd while occupying full-time civilian positions.
Unlike active-duty military bases where personnel cycle in and out in three- to five-year intervals, the personnel at the 162nd are here to stay. The leadership of the base understands this, and it is an integral part of their mission. Tucson is home. They are us.
The Tucson business community recognizes the role the 162nd Air Wing fulfills in Tucson. There is a community-based nonprofit organization, The Air Guardians, that exists to support wing personnel.
The Air Guardians are made up of local business leaders who are passionate about the wing’s mission and supporting the citizen airmen that keep it going. They are community liaisons, helping with housing, schooling, emergency services and other things necessary to ensure the 162nd continues here.
A quick plug for The Air Guardians — May 6 is its annual golf tournament at Ventana Golf Club. It is The Air Guardians primary fundraiser in support of wing personnel. Visit their website, 162airguardians.org, to learn more.
Let me revisit the cool part of the 162nd for a moment. It is a high-tech environment. The technologies on base are leading-edge — the latest platforms in robotics, unmanned technologies and aerospace technology can be found at the 162nd.
And best of all, they are hiring. Keeping F-16 jets safely in the air requires two specific skill sets — great pilots and zero-defect maintenance. The base is actively looking for people to fill positions in each of these areas.
The 162nd Air National Guard Wing has been in Tucson since the 1950s. MacDonald, Hook and the entire cadre of personnel are an integral part of our community. We are them, they are us, and they help Tucson grow..