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Luke | Honorary commander takes flight

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jakob Hambright
  • 56 FW/PA

LUKE AIR FORCE BAZE, Ariz. - Being an honorary commander affords many unique opportunities to those selected to represent their community in hopes of positively effecting public support. For Jill Kimmerle, the chance to fly in an F-16 Fighting Falcon was the highlight of her time as an honorary commander.
 

Kimmerle and her husband David have been involved in the community for decades. One example of their civic leadership is their business’s goal of giving $1 million to various charities and organizations throughout the area.
 

Not having any prior military experience, Kimmerle was exposed to the U.S. Air Force through her husband’s involvement with the Fighter County Foundation. The various events she attended inspired Kimmerle to become more involved in supporting the 56th Fighter Wing at Luke Air Force Base. In 2020, she applied and was selected to become an honorary commander.
 

“Being an honorary commander at Luke involves learning how our military serves every single citizen in America with excellence, honor, and care,” said Kimmerle. “The vision of honorary commanders is that we will be leaders in the valley of the sun with regards to enhancing the moral and wellbeing, culture and tradition, and the sustainability of Luke Air Force Base.”
 

After the induction, Kimmerle was assigned to work with Lt. Col. Nick Suppa, the commander of the 56th Operation Support Squadron. Kimmerle had the opportunity to learn more about Luke AFB and its Airmen.

 

“More than anything, I loved talking and interacting with everyone at the base and learning what they do every single day to serve and protect Americans,” said Kimmerle. “When I hear a military jet ripping through the air above the skies of Arizona, I know what the sound of freedom is.”

 

While living in the area near the base, Kimmerle regularly experienced aircraft flying overhead.

 

“I have always loved seeing those jets fly the skies of Arizona, while wishing I could be up there with them,” said Kimmerle. “I used to say that in my next life I would be a fighter pilot, so that I could experience the power and thrill of those incredible jets.”
 

Suppa and Lt. Col. Nicholas Krajicek, the commander of the 310th Fighter Squadron, worked together to have Kimmerle fly in an F-16 with an instructor pilot. Flying in a jet became a reality.
 

“After my personal doctor approved, the doctor at Luke Air Force Base did the same,” said Kimmerle. “She saw no reason why I couldn’t fly, even with being the oldest woman to ever fly in a jet from Luke.”
 

When January 25, 2022, rolled around, the 310th FS welcomed Kimmerle for a full day of flight training, mask and helmet fitting, egress training, and an overview of the flight systems.
 

The next day, Kimmerle suited up and met with Lt. Col. Justin Hicks, the director of operations for the 69th FS, and her instructor pilot. Kimmerle and Hicks took off for their flight alongside two other instructor pilots and a student pilot,
 

“We executed a dogfight mission with two enemy jets and two friendly jets,” said Kimmerle. “Along the way, I experienced 6.5 G’s, near-supersonic speed, barrel rolls, and other maneuvers.”[BCM1LUA5F1] 

 

After flying for almost two hours, Kimmerle gained new respect for the aircraft and the pilots.

 

“My flight was thrilling from the minute I stepped into the F-16 to when I climbed out and put my feet on the ground,” said Kimmerle. “My biggest takeaway was experiencing and learning what a fighter pilot’s job consists of. To understand what level of excellence and integrity it takes to be a fighter pilot trainer such as Hicks, was an experience in my life that I will hold dear forever.”

 

The flight, alongside the rest of her time spent as an honorary commander, reinforced Kimmerle’s views on Luke AFB and its relationship with the community.

 

“Luke Air Force Base and all the personnel on base bring our community a great sense of pride,” said Kimmerle. “The contribution that it brings the Glendale community and state of Arizona is tremendous.”

 

On October 6, 2022, Kimmerle and the rest of her class will conclude their time as honorary commanders. As her service is ending, Kimmerle looks back on it as one of the greatest opportunities she has been given and hopes that she made a difference for Luke AFB and its Airmen.