F-16 Ride Means 'Dream Come True' for S.C. Wing Flyer
1st Lt. Rachael J. Mercer
Public Affairs Officer
South Carolina Wing
Lt. Col. Brett Grooms could hardly contain himself before his F-16 Fighting Falcon familiarization flight on Monday — a “dream come true” for the South Carolina Wing pilot.
“I’m really stoked about this,” he said while preparing for the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity aboard an Air National Guard fighter flying from McEntire Joint National Guard Base in Eastover, not far from South Carolina’s capital, Columbia.
Grooms, the South Carolina Wing’s Legislative Squadron commander and the wing’s homeland security officer, is a regular participant in Air National Guard exercises, often as a Civil Air Patrol pilot during the air defense exercises.
This time it was different. He was on the other side, as a passenger of U.S. Air Force Maj. David Way of the South Carolina Air National Guard’s 169th Fighter Wing, based at McEntire.
After the flight, Grooms was equally elated and thankful for the experience. “I am truly honored to have been given the opportunity to fly with the South Carolina Air National Guard in one of their F-16s,” he said. “It was a dream come true and a lifetime memory.
“I am so proud of the opportunities the Civil Air Patrol has given me and the many lifelong friends I have gained. The professionalism of Civil Air Patrol senior members and cadets is what keeps me working so hard in the Civil Air Patrol,” he added.
Grooms was selected for the ride in recognition of his CAP service and the South Carolina Wing’s close working relationship with the South Carolina Air National Guard. Along with other wing members, he has coordinated or participated in more than 40 Fertile Keynote air defense exercises jointly with the Air National Guardover the last four years. He has been involved in other high-profile CAP missions as well, including the organization’s multi-wing response to Hurricane Harvey in 2017.
Just recently, Grooms and about 40 other South Carolina Wing members participated in two overlapping readiness missions — the Southeast Aerospace Control Alert Conference exercise and South Carolina’s annual hurricane preparedness exercise.
The conference, which began on June 5, tested interagency communications as well as air defense methods and procedures to counter potential air threats to the U.S. CAP aircrews were able to refine their flying and communication skills, while pilots from the 169th Fighter Wing honed their tactical-level, air-intercept procedures. The U.S. Coast Guard was also involved.
“This was a first for our pilots and crews in South Carolina, to fly in close proximity to Coast Guard helicopters. They are highly trained, regularly flying Fertile Keynote air defense exercises,” said Lt. Col. Mark Bailey, the wing’s director of operations. “I’m proud of all the work everyone has done.”
On June 7, while South Carolina Wing aircrews were participating in the conference, additional crews were flying over Interstate 26, ensuring the state’s lane reversal evacuation plan was working properly. As part of the exercise, wing aircrews followed State Highway Patrol vehicles from Columbia to Charleston, ensuring both sides of the interstate were available for northbound traffic in the event of a hurricane.
Col. Lee Safley, wing commander, commended Grooms and the wing members who supported the two missions. “I couldn’t be more pleased with how our crews performed,” Safley said. “Members of the South Carolina Wing are highly skilled volunteer airmen of the U.S. Air Force auxiliary. Our members provide direct support on a routine basis as a first-choice force multiplier. I am proud of our airmen and the service they provide every day.”