By Air Force Senior Airman Jonathan Bass
20th Fighter Wing
SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., March 30, 2015 – The commander of the 79th Fighter Squadron here has spent 125 days flying in the cockpit of an F-16 Fighting Falcon.
Air Force Lt. Col. Raymond Millero Jr., who flew his 3,000th hour in the seat of his fighter jet last month, is the 260th F-16 pilot to achieve this milestone.
"When put into the context of 125 days, it seems unreal that I spent so much time in the cockpit," Millero said. "I've had the opportunity to fly with 11 different active-duty squadrons and five Air National Guard squadrons throughout my career."
In more than 19 years of service, Millero has flown three different models of the F-16: Blocks 30, 40 and 50. The Block 50 model focuses on the suppression of enemy air defenses, which is the mission set of the 20th Fighter Wing. These F-16s facilitate an air-to-ground campaign targeting and destroying enemy surface-to-air missile systems.
Wide Variety of Skills
Flying the different models has given him a wide variety of skills and an excellent grip on the aircraft's abilities and tactics, the Hadley, Pennsylvania, native said, which proved helpful during the more than 611 combat hours he flew in Iraq and Afghanistan. He flew tours in Operation Southern Watch, as well as in operations New Dawn and Enduring Freedom.
"His extensive experience gives him a deep knowledge base that he can call upon when things aren't going exactly right, and that's what separates the great pilots from the good pilots," said Air Force Lt. Col. Andrew Caggiano, the 79th Fighter Squadron’s director of operations.
Hard work, dedication and the application of knowledge gained through life experience is what brought Millero to this point in his career, Caggiano added.
His Father’s Dog Tags
Millero has taken his father's dog tags with him on more than 1,800 sorties in the F-16, using the opportunity to remind himself of his father's love.
"My father always encouraged me throughout my life and has been a great inspiration to me," he explained. "I like to honor his service and what he sacrificed to allow me the opportunities I've had. Flying with his dog tags reminds me of his sacrifice and provides a reminder to me of the reason I am where I am today."
With 3,000 hours of experience in the cockpit, Millero has seen almost every possible scenario and can turn bad situations into good ones, thus making him and every pilot he leads both safer and more lethal in combat, Caggiano said.
"Achieving 3,000 hours is a significant personal and professional accomplishment for a fighter pilot," said Air Force Col. Paul Murray, 20th Operations Group commander. "But beyond the personal aspects, this milestone demonstrates the capability of our Air Force to maintain aircraft and personnel at a high level of readiness and ultimately support combat operations around the world."
Lucky to be Flying the F-16
Millero said he considers himself lucky to be flying the F-16 after so many years, and that he takes the most satisfaction out of instructing pilots and teaching them the necessary skills to employ the F-16.
"I believe it is necessary for the older generation to pass along the lessons learned from their experiences in order to develop the next generation," he said. "By growing the next generation of fighter pilots, we ensure they are ready when the nation calls us for combat operations -- any time, anywhere."