Idaho Air National Guard jets train and compete at Hawgsmoke 2022
There are 37 large fighter planes lined up in two rows at Gowen Field and they're glinting in the hot afternoon sun. Standing in the shadow of one of these jets is Colonel Ryan Richardson.
“It's a dream come true. I think I'm the luckiest guy in the world. Yeah, the airplane is a absolute dream to fly. The pilots love it.”
Richardson is the commander of the 124th Operations Group and he's wanted to fly planes since he was a kid growing up in Idaho and Montana.
“I started off in fourth grade. I knew I wanted to be a pilot. I didn't know I wanted to fly the Warthog until pilot training, when I started to meet pilots in the community. And it didn't take me too long - between the people that are in our community and the mission that we do protecting the folks on the ground - that I knew this was the aircraft I had to be in. And I've been lucky enough to be in it for a while now,” Richardson says.
The aircraft he's talking about is the A-10 C Thunderbolt II, affectionately known as a Warthog. The A-10 squadron based at the Idaho Air National Guard at Gowen Field in Boise is known as the Skullbangers.
“Skullbangers, the greatest fighter attack pilots in the universe. It's the 190th Fighter Squadron. We've got 21 jets, about 37 pilots right now,” according to Richardson.
The Skullbangers are just a part of the 124th Fighter Wing, which is made up of about 1,300 men and women.
“We're largely made up of part-time Guardsmen. They're just members in your community. So we have ranchers, we have airline pilots, we have businessmen all over, not just in the 190th, but all over the Wing. They're members of the community."
They give up their time to come out and serve proudly with us.Col. Ryan Richardson
One of those members is Chief Master Sergeant James Ovanek, who lives in Nampa.
“And I joined the Idaho Guard in 2005 as a C-130 crew chief. Before I was hired full-time, I worked at Chuck E. Cheese, where I came up to be the assistant manager…”
Hold on a minute. Chuck E. Cheese?
“Working at Chuck E. Cheese is like, kind of like herding cats.”
Ovanek was active duty military for six years. When he got out, he did the part-time gig working at Chucky and at the Guard until he switched to full-time work out of Gowan Field. Now he works for the Warthog’s Engine Shop.
He works on ejection seats, hydraulics, fuel systems, and he works with about 100 other folks keeping the Idaho Air National Guard's A-10s in the air.
“We work alongside our traditional Guardsmen and our full-time force. We're brothers and sisters outside of here, you know, because we're neighbors and we work in the same industries when we're not out here. And it's an amazing sense of pride,” says Ovanek.
Pride is a big part of what's about to happen out here. Gowen Field is hosting Hawgsmoke 2022, a competition where 15 different Warthog squadrons test their skills against each other. Each team has four pilots and a crew that keeps their planes up and running.
“It's a competition and it's amazing training,” Richardson says. “So the competition itself brings in A-10 units from all over the world. We've got Guard, active duty and reserve here.”
The planes take off from Gowen Field and fly about 70 miles to the southeast.
“From there they've got a very fast-paced, challenging tactical problem to solve. It involves low-level navigation to a target area, some low-level weapons employment. There'll be a gunnery and bombing competition,” says Richardson. "The best part of Hawgsmoke is the chance to get the community together in one place and the cross-talk and relationships that we develop, especially in the Guard.”
This is our home. We stay here forever.Col. Ryan Richardson
“So the opportunity to talk tactics with other squadrons, build relationships with these people that we may deploy with someday, share ideas, has been, I think, the most rewarding part," says Richardson.
Relationships are the best part of the job, says Chief Master Sergeant Ovanek.
"Interacting with everybody I work with. That's, that's probably the best, you know, and in the end, standing out here on the flight line and watching their planes take off every day. It's incredible. It never gets old. Never gets old."
The Idaho Air National Guard “Skullbangers” took home first place with the 2022 Overall Team Award. It’s their fourth Hawgsmoke win, which makes them number one in the world.