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AWACS officer retires with more than 10,500 flying hours

Surrounded by other crewmembers, family and friends, Maj. Jon Williams, 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, celebrates his final flight on the E-3 Sentry after 33 years of service in the United States Air Force and 10, 527.2 flying hours. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Surrounded by other crewmembers, family and friends, Maj. Jon Williams, 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, celebrates his final flight on the E-3 Sentry after 33 years of service in the United States Air Force and 10, 527.2 flying hours. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- On July 27, 1981, 1st Lt. Jon Williams flew his first sortie on the E-3 Sentry aircraft as a weapons director. Now, 31 years later, Maj. Jon Williams, an evaluator mission crew commander in the 963rd Airborne Air Control Squadron, has logged 1267 total sorties, 222 of which were combat sorties.

His 10,527.2 final flying hours total is an all-time record for the most flown by any crewmember in the U.S. Air Force E-3 in the history of the airframe, which has been operational since March 1977. The next closest crewmember was Chief Kevin Terrell, who retired in 2006 with 10,193.8 total E-3 flying hours. His total combat time from Operations Allied Force (Kosovo), Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom of 2,792.1 hours is also an all-time record.

"I've kept doing this because of the pride I feel in the service of my country, my appreciation to the Air Force for giving me these great opportunities, and my love for my job on the E-3 Sentry," Major Williams said. "For years other crewmembers would ask me how long I was going to keep going and my reply always was that I'd keep doing this until they pried my checklist from my cold, dead fingers! In retrospect; however, I'm glad it didn't actually come to that."

Lt. Col. Walt Hattemer, 963rd AACS commander said Major Williams made a lasting impact on the AWACS community.

"Jon started flying the E-3 before our youngest mission-ready crew-member was even born," Colonel Hattemer said. "He has met every challenge, including eight deployments in three conflicts and setting a flying hour mark that will probably never be broken. Jon served as a leader, instructor, evaluator, and mentor, impacting generations of E-3 crewmembers. We're going to miss him."

Another E-3 crewmember and former mission crew commander, retired Maj. Reed Roderick, who has known Major Williams since 1981, said Major Williams' record hours is something to be proud of. "Flying that many hours shows a dedication to your job and your country," Major Roderick said. "It also demonstrates your discipline."

When Major Roderick retired in 1995, he was known as the Air Force officer with the most E-3 flying hours, a total of about 8,050, a number Major Williams surpassed four years ago.

Besides deployments to OAF, OEF and OIF, Major Williams has more than 50 overseas deployments with the E-3, more than 85 percent of which were combat support missions.

"What gives me the most pride has been the pace of my flying and deployments since returning to the 552nd ACW in July 1995 to become an MCC," Major Williams said. "In 1995 I had only about 2,800 total E-3 flying hours and have since added another 7,700 as an MCC."

Major Williams has taken advantage of every opportunity to continue flying this long and has voluntarily used two different officer recall programs to stay on active duty for the last nine years.

"They were making me retire because of high year of tenure in July 2003, but I wasn't ready to go, so I used the recall programs to stay on active duty with no break in service, doing what I loved in the best squadron in the Air Force, the 963rd AACS," he said. "Four thousand of my 10,500-plus flying hours were flown in the last nine years; not too bad for an old retired guy!"

When 2nd Lt. Jon Williams was commissioned in Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in May 1979, he was first sent to technical school at Tyndall AFB, Fla., and then sent for a year remote as an identification officer on the Distant Early Warning Line, Northwest Territories, Canada. The mission was classic NORAD air defense during the height of the Cold War. After that he received his assignment of choice to the 552nd ACW, did more training enroute at Tyndall, and first arrived at Tinker in February 1981.

After tours in Florida, Italy and Colorado, Major Williams returned to Tinker in 1995 to become an AWACS mission crew commander and was assigned to the 963rd AACS, where he remains to this day. While in the 963rd he was on the first AWACS crews to deploy to and fight in the conflicts OAF, OEF and OIF.