Falcons fly for freedom

A U.S. Air Force pilot assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron prepares an F-16CM Fighting Falcon for takeoff at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018.

A U.S. Air Force pilot assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron prepares an F-16CM Fighting Falcon for takeoff at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018. Pilots assigned to the 20th Fighter Wing fly nearly 300 sorties per week to develop suppression of enemy defenses skills. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

A U.S. Air Force maintainer assigned to the 20th Maintenance Group, left, signals “Roll’em,” a 55th Fighter Squadron (FS) saying, to an F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 55th FS at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018.

A U.S. Air Force maintainer assigned to the 20th Maintenance Group, left, signals “Roll’em,” a 55th Fighter Squadron (FS) saying, to an F-16CM Fighting Falcon pilot assigned to the 55th FS at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018. The pilot, with the maintainer’s support, participated in a surge designed for pilots to catch up on flight time lost due to weather or poor flying conditions. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

A U.S. Air Force pilot assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron flies an F-16CM Fighting Falcon at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018

A U.S. Air Force pilot assigned to the 55th Fighter Squadron flies an F-16CM Fighting Falcon at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., June 27, 2018. Pilots participated in a surge to practice their skills and stay sharp for the suppression of enemy air defenses mission, June 25-29. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Kathryn R.C. Reaves)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. -- Having never lived at a military installation before arriving at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, I was initially startled at the sight and sound of an F-16CM Fighting Falcon roaring over me as it came in for landing.

As time passed and I got used to the loud engines and learned about the base’s primary mission, the F-16s began to take on a new meaning for me; they represented freedom.

With support and resources provided by all 20th Fighter Wing Airmen, 55th, 77th and 79th Fighter Squadron pilots navigate the skies to practice their skills and stay sharp for the fight.

Pilots from the three squadrons fly approximately 300 sorties per week, being deliberately developed as combat-ready sentinels and suppression of enemy air defenses warriors.

They are part of the nation’s core SEAD wing. They carry the responsibility of defeating our nation’s enemies and guarding American freedoms, so they train to defend those they are sworn to protect.

Understanding the purpose of these flights, which may occur at any hour of the day, helps reduce my own frustration when they cause occasional interruptions.

For example, Team Shaw pilots participated in a surge June 25-29. The surge entailed flying nearly twice as many hours as normal in order to catch up on flight time lost due to weather or poor flying conditions.

I noticed a few more mild inconveniences during the week, such as needing to pause more often than normal during outdoor conversations or having to ask questions again when answering the phone at work.

Reflecting on why the flight line was so active kept irritation at bay. I would remind myself that the men and women navigating those F-16s were honing their skills to secure our safety here at home and, when they deploy, the safety of our brothers and sisters in arms.

I also told myself that by focusing on what I needed to do as an Airman, like those hard at work supporting pilots to keep Falcons soaring, I was a small, important piece in the big Air Force puzzle.

So the next time you feel interrupted by the rumble of a jet engine, take a moment to remember: that’s the sound of freedom.