LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas--On July 17, 2020, after nearly two years serving at ‘the base on the border’, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, Col. Lee Gentile, 47th Flying Training Wing commander, stood in the T-6A Texan II locker room preparing for his final flight as a part of Team XL.
The bittersweet feeling of finishing an era started to creep up as he gathered his gear. Fastening his g-suit, he took his emotions and neatly stored them in a box for later. Right then, he had a job to accomplish.
“Through the brief, I was really focused on the mission and understanding how we could go out and execute our low-level training sortie safely and effectively,” Gentile said. “It hit me like a ton of bricks as soon as I stepped into the aircrew and flight equipment room to get my helmet, g-suit and harness; this would be the last time.”
He’d just finished his pre-flight brief with one of the 85th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilots, and they were going to fly a combat-readiness low-level mission. His job was to impart the years and years’ worth of knowledge and experience he had to the younger pilots who would be flying in formation at his wing.
“We teach the bedrock of military aviation here at Laughlin, and it's really neat to see how excited the instructor pilots here are to learn more about it,” Gentile said. “Our mission is building combat-ready Airmen leaders and pilots. Since pilots is what we do, it’s critical for us to invest in our instructor pilots.”
He finished prepping his equipment and met his wingmen at the office overlooking the flightline, where they finalized the details of the flight ahead.
Spirits were high as the pilots and squadron aviation resource management Airman chatted about the occasion. Fini flights are a tradition marking the last flight a pilot takes in the aircraft flown at a certain place, or sometimes the last time they ever fly a plane.
The four pilots made their way to the two T-6’s they were assigned. One, the 85th FTS’s flagship and the other, the aircraft with Gentile’s name written on the side.
Thoroughly going through the pre-flight checklists, they climbed into the cockpits. Everyone was sweating from the heat of the late morning sun but ready to fly.
Flying is what Gentile has known his entire adult life. Knowing this flight would be the last of his military career, he was excited for his next chapter; however he masked the sadness as well. As he is set to leave Laughlin and become the Air Command and Staff College commandant, he leaves the 47th FTW Airmen with these parting words.
“The most important thing we do is focus on people and build relationships,” Gentile said. “So many people look at the mission and that’s all they see; but every bit of our mission is people. By focusing on relationships, we are naturally focusing on people.”
With the many daily distractions, Gentile asks Laughlin to continue to focus on what’s important. What matters, he says is training student pilots and being prepared to defend the nation if the need arises.