From small town to touring internationally with the F-35

  • Published
  • By SSgt. Tyler J. Bolken
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Growing up in a small town can feel isolating, like there is nothing else out there. This can lead some young men and women to opt to join the armed forces to see the world, be exposed to new opportunities, and to serve their country.

This can be said for one Reserve Citizen Airman who is part of the 944th Fighter Wing, Staff Sgt. John Baker, crew chief for the F-35 Heritage Flight Team out of Luke Air Force Base, Arizona.

Baker grew up in Carlisle, Iowa, a small community of less than 5,000 people 25 miles outside of Iowa’s capital city, Des Moines.

“I knew when I was young I wanted to join the military, it wasn’t until I was in high school that I decided on the Air Force,” said Baker.

He said his grandfather was in the Air Force and decided ultimately that the Air Force was the path he wanted to pursue after graduating high school in 2008.

After six years of active duty, Baker was now a married man and decided stability for his family was his priority, leading him to separate from active duty. However, he did want to continue serving his country so he opted to stay in the Air Force Reserve. Baker is now an air reserve technician with the 61st Fighter Squadron and it is his reserve status that led to a unique opportunity to be a part of the F-35 Heritage Flight Team.

“I knew about the team and emailed their team chief to ask if they would be willing to interview a reservist,” Baker explained.

After finding out the answer was “yes” and going through the interview process, Baker found out he was accepted.

“I was excited and anxious to have the opportunity to be a part of the team,” he said.

The F-35 Heritage Flight Team performs flight demonstrations, both nationally and internationally, pairing modern aircraft with fighter aircraft from WWII, Korea, and Vietnam eras to celebrate the past and the future of the Air Force.

“It has been great to have him on the heritage team,” said Lt. Col. Karwin Weaver, 944th Aircraft Maintenance commander. “He exemplifies how seamless integration between the 56th Fighter Wing and 944th MXG is here at Luke and Staff Sgt. Baker’s opportunity to represent our Reserve Citizen Airmen on the F-35 Heritage Team gives testament to the caliber of Airmen we have in our group.”

As an F-35 crew chief on the international stage, Baker says it is a privilege to be an ambassador for the Air Force and the United States on behalf of an aircraft he works on.

“I love the excitement people have toward our jet and seeing it fly,” said Baker. “It is very humbling.”

Of the various stops the team has made, Baker said his favorite was Rhode Island because of the people and great food.

When asked about explaining the F-35 to family and friends in layman’s terms, Baker said he compares the jet to a new iPhone, compared to its predecessors.

“The F-16 is like an iPhone 5, whereas the F-35 is like the iPhone X. It is the latest and greatest in the sky,” said Baker.

Although the F-35 yields several advanced technological upgrades, as a mechanic, Baker said he prefers working on the F-35 over other jets.
“The design makes it way easier,” he said.

In being a part of the F-35 Heritage Flight Team, Baker said it makes him appreciate more and more what he and the team do every day.

“I take pride in being an F-35 Crew Chief,” he said. “It’s something people remind me of at every air show.”