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Fighter to the Finish: Oldest F-16 pilot in the Reserve retires

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Allissa Landgraff

Most people in the military think of their jobs as at least a 20-year sentence. You do the time to get the retirement.

For Lt. Col. Joseph “Hooter” Feheley, a Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 482nd Fighter Wing, Homestead Air Reserve Base, Florida, his job was a dream come true. So much in fact, it led him into a 33-year flying career with about 5,000 flying hours under his belt.

Serving in every military campaign since Operation Desert Storm in 1991, Feheley’s retirement came in December at 59 years and 364 days of age.

“If I wanted to do a different job, I could’ve left,” Feheley said. “I earned my retirement and all that stuff years ago. But when you wake up in the morning doing something that you love to do, why change that?”

His first job was as a young stockbroker in Miami, but Feheley knew he wanted more. He decided to take flying lessons locally, and quickly realized he had a passion for the craft.

While he continued to pursue flying as just a hobby, he attended his college reunion, and an old classmate mentioned the potential of a military career to him. Feheley knew he had to try.

Feheley joined the Air Force in 1988 with the hopes of becoming an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot. Unfortunately, at the time, the position for that fighter jet was unavailable, so he began training for the A-10 Warthog. He flew the A-10 from 1990 to 1994 when he got accepted for his coveted position of F-16 pilot.

So after 20 years of flying his favorite aircraft, what kept him going?

“The job,” said Feheley. “It’s truly that little boy that never has to grow up. You get to play with the coolest toys on the face of the earth.”

Lt. Col. David Sproehnle, commander of the 93rd Fighter Squadron, gives credit to Feheley’s skill and attests to why he had such a long and successful career.

“He’s knowledgeable about his job, he can execute his job, but yet he’s still humble,” Sproehnle said. “His ability to adapt is what allowed that. Swapping airplanes, keeping up with all the changes in tactics, all the different weapons, all the different systems have constantly evolved, so he’s really grown with the airplane.”

Feheley also credits the people he worked with and the aircraft.

“The people in the squadron are why you stay, and it’s what you remember,” he said “You start for a national honor thing where you want to do something for your country, and then you realize, ‘wow, it’s pretty cool flying airplanes.’ It’s the people that keep you here for 33 years.”

Feheley said it is the freedom the jet offers that helped him to enjoy his career and his time in the military. The flexibility and dynamic aspect of the aircraft kept him enthralled through everything, to include his last flight on Dec. 10.

“I am proud and honored to have served with someone who has ‘been there, done that’,” said Sproehnle. “He served our country for a long time, and he should be considered a hero for what he has done.” #ReserveReady #ReserveResilient