OSAN AIR BASE, South Korea --
They are one of the oldest fighting squadrons in the U.S. Air Force with more than 90 years of history. These "Fighting Fiends" have flown 21 different types of aircraft; received 22 unit citations and 24 service and campaign streamers since World War I.
The 36th Fighter Squadron originated in Kelly Field, Texas, and has relocated to Selfridge Field, Michigan; Langley Field, Virginia; New Guinea, the Philippines and Japan, before finally making Osan Air Base their permanent home in 1974.
Then, on Aug. 10, 1988, Lt. Col. Al Spitzer, squadron commander at the time, landed the first F-16C, Fighting Falcon. Just two years later, the squadron's combat capabilities were transformed when they converted to the Block-40 version of the F-16, which featured low-altitude navigation targeting infrared for night.
The addition of LANTIRN gave the "Fiends" the ability to fly at low levels and deliver precision-guided munitions during low- or no-light conditions. In recent years, upgrades to the Block 40 have included GBU-31 joint direct attack munition capability for all-weather precision engagement.
"The history of the squadron over the years, has had a huge impact on not only the safety and security of our South Korean allies, but a legacy that continues to live on and thrive through successful training and joint integration," said Maj. Cory Jerch, 36th FS flight commander and instructor pilot. "The upgrades are what give us the ability to continue the fight."
The newest upgrades have included the AIM-9X Sidewinder and the AN/AAQ-33 Sniper XR advanced targeting pod and the AN/ASQ-213 high-speed anti-radiation missile targeting system.
"The current mission of the 36th [FS] is to prepare for and execute immediate air combat operations to dominate any aggressors threatening U.S. or Republic of Korea interests," said Capt. Ely Smith, 36th FS scheduling officer and flight lead. "We provide combat air power for the Combined Forces Air Component commander should we need to deploy for contingency operations."
"Throughout the missions and exercises we play in, we have the ability to simulate the weapons we would potentially use in wartime situations," Smith said. He added the most important mission for them is to protect the South Korean citizens and our American families who are also here.
In the past year, the squadron has flown more than 4,500 sorties, making the 36th the largest F-16 flying program in the Combat Air Force.
Additionally, the squadron flew joint missions with the Republic of Korea Air Force.
"We train in 'Buddy Wing missions' to help integrate old and new fighting tactics," said Smith. "We know our own tactics, but it's great to work with the guys we'll be working with in the event we deploy."
"Our job is not a one man job," Smith said. "My favorite thing about flying is getting to fly in joint formations with the various agencies throughout Osan and across the ROKAF. There can be language barriers, but overall the people we work with are the best at what they do and I couldn't love it more."