Formal Training Unit graduation unites generations

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Members of Formal Training Unit Class 18-02 applaud at the end of their graduation ceremony at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana, March 22, 2019. More than 30 new bomber aircrew joined the ranks of the B-52 Stratofortress community during the ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

By Master Sgt. Ted Daigle, 307th Bomb Wing 

BARKSDALE AIR FORCE BASE, La. — Aircrew from World War II and the Vietnam War arrived here to greet newly minted members of the U.S. Air Force bomber community during a graduation for Formal Training Unit Class 18-02, March 25, 2019.

The audience included Albert Gill, a B-24 Liberator navigator during World War II, and retired Lt. Col. Adolf Wesselhoeft, a B-52 Stratofortress pilot during the Vietnam War.

During his speech to the FTU graduates, Gen. Timothy Ray, commander of Air Force Global Strike Command, advised them to draw inspiration from veterans like Gill and Wesselhoeft in order to shape the future.

“There is no doubt we stand on the shoulders of giants,” said Ray. “But ours is a never-ending turn of improvements and challenges.  The only way to approach it is to be bold.”

He also encouraged the graduates, like their predecessors, to be flexible in order to overcome challenges.

Albert Gill, a former B-24 Liberator navigator, displays patches given to him by Col. Robert VanHoy, 307th Bomb Wing commander March 22, 2019 at Barksdale Air Force Base, Louisiana. Gill, who served in the 307th Bomb Group during World War II, was on hand to see his grandson, 1st Lt. Jacob Gill, join the bomber community during the graduation of Formal Training Unit Class 18-02. (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Ted Daigle)

“I need you to be lethal with that which you have been given,” he said. “There’s no denying what we need to become lethal is to think and be innovative, bold Airmen, always remembering the price that was paid as we move into the future.”

Mr. Gill, now 97 years old, flew in from his home in Knoxville, Tennessee to witness his grandson, 1st Lt. Jake Gill, follow in his footsteps.  When Lt. Gill was born, his grandfather wrote a letter to be opened on his twenty-first birthday.

“I wrote a list of wishes I had for him and one of those was that he would go to the Air Force Academy,” said Mr. Gill.

That wish was fulfilled, but the greatest irony was yet to come.  Upon entering the FTU, the young officer was assigned to the ancestral unit of his grandfather’s unit in WWII, the 307th Bomb Group.

The 307th Bomb Wing still sports the heritage patch of the 307th Bomb Group, something that was not lost on Lt. Gill when he joined the unit.

“I grew up seeing that patch at my grandfather’s house, so I immediately called to tell him that I was now serving in his old unit,” said Lt. Gill.  “He was so excited!”

For Wesselhoeft, the FTU graduation was a chance to express gratitude for assistance at provided by the 307th Bomb Wing for an air show for which he volunteers. He signed free copies of his autobiography for 307th Bomb Wing aircrew and maintainers that supported the show.

The autobiography details an odyssey that forced him from America, only to return and serve in the U.S. Air Force as a B-52 Stratofortress navigator.  

As a six-year-old son of German immigrants growing up in Chicago during World War II, Wesselhoeft and his family were removed from their home and placed in an internment camp after his father was designated for the government’s enemy alien exchange program.

A year later, the family was deported to Germany in exchange for American prisoners of war.  Arriving at his grandparent’s home in Hamburg, Wesselhoeft and his family were exposed to bombing from Allied planes. After the war, he endured the deprivations associated with postwar Europe, including a lack of food and heating fuel.

Throughout the ordeal, he kept looking for his chance to come back to the United States.

“It was imprinted on me as a child, that I belonged in the United States,” said Wesselhoeft. ”There was no doubt in my mind about where I wanted to be.”

In 1958, Wesselhoeft was allowed to return to the United States.  Grateful for the chance to come back, he got off the boat in New York City and paid a visit to the nearest military recruiting office. He spent the next 22 years in the Air Force, retiring as a lieutenant colonel and serving in Vietnam.

The Formal Training Unit provides initial and re-qualification training for all Air Force B-52 aircrew.  It is part of the total force enterprise, with instructors coming from both Reserve and active duty Airmen from the 11th Bomb Squadron and 93rd BS.