Mountain Home AFB by Tim Lachenmaier, with additional photos by Robert Verbrugge
"You’re going to Idaho? What is there to do in Idaho?" These were the most common questions after I told friends and colleagues that I would be visiting Mountain Home Air Force Base to do a little work – putting the camera to the grindstone, if you will!
I was absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to photograph at Mountain Home. This gave me a chance to put Mountain Home "on the map" in photographic terms, and in a way, represent the 366th Fighter Wing. I had wanted to photograph MO-coded jets for quite some time and finally I had the chance to visit this diamond in the rough.
The 366th Fighter Wing, The Gunslingers, proudly wears the unit badge on its aircraft, with the Latin motto Audentes Fortuna Juvat – "Fortune Favors the Bold."
As a resident of Phoenix, Arizona, I quickly recognized that this part of Idaho was not much different at all from the area I call home. There were desert landscapes, sand, heat, and the occasional tumbleweed. For the visual learners, Mountain Home AFB sits 35 miles, as the bird flies, to the southeast of Boise and a generous 3000 feet above sea level. The base is nestled into the relatively-flat centre of a valley, with intimidating 10,000 foot mountain ranges to the east and 8000 footers to the south and west. Southwest is also where Mountain Home’s local restricted areas and military operations areas are – the "ranges." The local ranges provide a perfect training environment for Mountain Home’s resident squadrons, especially for pilots preparing to deploy to the Middle East.
In short, and skipping a great deal of the base’s long history, at one point in the early 1990s, Mountain Home AFB was home to a composite wing consisting of F-15C Eagles, F-15E Strike Eagles, F-16C Fighting Falcons, B-1B bombers, and KC-135 tankers. But with changes in USAF doctrine, a lot of shifting and unit transferring has taken place to make Mountain Home AFB what it is now: home to three full squadrons of F-15 Eagles. These are the 389th Fight Squadron, The Thunderbolts, flying the F-15E; the 390th FS: Wild Boars flying the F-15C; and the 391st FS Bold Tigers flying the F-15E.
The most recent change to the 366th Fighter Wing was the transition of the 389th FS to the F-15E after operating F-16CJs for 15 years. This took place in March 2007. The incoming Strike Eagles came from the 90th FS at Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, which is now receiving the F-22 Raptor. Not far down the road, in 2009, the 390th will lose its F-15Cs.
The base’s static aircraft park is one of the nicest I’ve visited to date. The aircraft located at Mt. Home are: F-84, F-100, F-4, F-111, EF-111, F-16, F-15 and B-1. The B-1 was actually over-G’d in flight and subsequently became a training airframe.
One area of a squadron rarely seen by outsiders is the bar. This one was hidden down a series of corridors. No prizes for guessing which squadron it belongs to! There was a very cozy, yet spiritual, feel to it. From the awards on one wall, to a plaque on with a model of a guided bomb above the phrase "Bombs on time on target," to a wall with 150 name tags showing who was once a Bold Tiger, to personalized beer mugs – it’s easy to understand why this place becomes a refuge to crews after a long day.
After photographing the 389th FS ramp, I was taken on the west side of the field to photograph the afternoon launch of eight Strike Eagles from the 391st. Following the half-hour long launch and the ear-piercing jet noise, we headed to the 391st ramp to photograph the remaining Bold Tigers. The 391st FS was fresh back from a deployment, and nearly all their jets carried mission markings. One jet had 425 bomb marks on the nose!
The 390th FS was deployed to Nellis AFB at the time of my visit, so I had to settle for shooting the F-15A in the static park. Its serial number is 76-0110, but it is painted and marked to depict F-15C 86-0177, the first F-15C assigned to the 366th Wing.
Acknowledgements: I’m not able to thank them enough! I was very fortunate to be given a very professional escort and base tour by 1Lt. Tindell and SSgt Reif from Public Affairs. I greatly appreciate all the coordination and the access to the squadron ramps. I’d also like to express my appreciation to the 389th, 390th, and 391st Fight Squadrons for their hospitality and for letting me photograph their aircraft – I couldn’t have asked for more! Last, but by no means least, thanks to SSgt Jordan Long for the help over the years.