Military flyover salutes at Bulldog football games will resume when the Mountain West Conference West Division Champion Fresno State Bulldogs honor the California Air National Guard’s Fresno-based 144th Fighter Wing at its regular season finale at 12:30 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 25, versus Boise State, the conference’s East Division champion.
The game also marks the 38th anniversary of the first game played in Bulldog Stadium, a 21-14 Dogs victory over Montana State on Nov. 25, 1980, played before 25,684 (the stadium capacity was 30,000 when it opened). That first game, the last of the 1980 season, was a test run for the formal opener the following September, according to Tom Kane, Bulldogs sports information director at the time.
Also at Saturday’s game, the U.S. Marines Fresno County Toys for Tots drive will accept toy donations at each entrance to Bulldog Stadium to help the less fortunate over the holiday season.
For the flyover, two U.S. Air Force F-15C Eagles are scheduled to conduct the exercise at approximately 12:17 p.m. as the Bulldog Marching Band completes its rendition of the National Anthem just prior to kickoff.
The two-ship formation over Bulldog Stadium will be piloted by Fresno State alumni: Lieutenant Colonel Rob “Tigger” Swertfager, lead pilot, and First Lieutenant Skylar “Voodoo” Bautista, wingman pilot.
The pilots and Col. Drake Reed, the 144th Wing’s commander (represented by Col. Dan Kelly, vice commander), will be honored on the field in the third quarter. Members of the Air National Guard stationed at the Fresno base have been invited to the game as guests of the Bulldogs.
“The 144th Fighter Wing has been a pillar of the Fresno community since 1951 and it’s an honor to take a moment to recognize our local California Air National and all they do in their mission to protect the airspace and infrastructure of our amazing state, Las Vegas and the southern border,” said University President Joseph I. Castro who will host the base command.
The federal mission of the 144th Fighter wing is “to provide air superiority in support of worldwide joint operations as well as air defense of the United States. Additionally, the wing provides agile combat support, and intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to combatant commanders around the globe.” The Wing also provides a variety of homeland defense capabilities to U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM).
With over 1,100 citizen airmen and women deployed at the Fresno base, the 144th Fighter Wing has flown aircraft such as the P-51, F-86, F-102, F-4, F-16 and in 2013, the F-15C Eagle, an all-weather, extremely maneuverable, tactical fighter designed to permit the Air Force to gain and maintain air supremacy over the battlefield.
In July, the 144th was awarded an overall score of “Effective” by the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command Inspection team. In four Major Graded Areas, the wing received a “Highly Effective Rating” in the area of executing the mission and an “Effective” in the other three areas: management of resources, improving the unit and leading people.
The University’s tie to the 144th runs deep with many alumni deployed at the California Air National Guard base.
Lt. Col. Swertfager, a Clovis West graduate (1985), was commissioned through the Fresno State Air Force ROTC while earning a bachelor’s in Business Marketing in 1991. He received his M.B.A. from Florida State University and graduated from Air Force Pilot Training in 1997.
He deployed to Saudi Arabia for Operation Southern Watch in both 2000 and 2001. On the morning of Sept.11, 2001, he scrambled his F-16 out of Fresno to intercept a Malaysian Airlines 747 off the coast of California and escorted the jet to safety. In 2016, Lt. Col Swertfager planned and commanded over 278 Airmen and 12 F-15s of the 194th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron on a three-month deployment to Eastern Europe to deter Russian aggression in the region. He has over 2,000 hours of flying the F-16 and F-15 aircraft. He and wife Lisa have three daughters Lauren, Kate and Brooke.
First Lieutenant Bautista graduated cum laude from Fresno State in 2008 through the Smittcamp Honors program with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science. With over 180 hours in the F-15 Eagle jet, Bautista is a mission-qualified wingman who has recently deployed to Florida to launch air-to-air missiles. He and his wife Sam reside in Fresno.
Fresno State’s ROTC programs — the US Army Bulldog Battalion and the Air Force Detachment 35 — also participate in the football games, providing a joint color guard for the National Anthem and the “Push Up Squad” when the ’Dogs score.
Saturday’s game, which is also Senior Night for 15 Bulldogs and a battle for the “Milk Can” rivalry trophy, will be the first of back-to-back contests pitting the two division champions of the Mountain West Conference; the game will be featured on the CBS Sports Network. The division opponents will meet again Dec. 2 in the conference championship game with the host site to be determined following the Nov. 25 regular season game.
Fresno State, whose 13-7 win over Wyoming last week clinched the Bulldogs’ third West Division title in five years, is receiving votes in both the Amway Coaches Poll and AP Top 25. It marks the first time the ’Dogs have received votes in both polls since the end-of-year polls in 2013.
The Fresno State Athletics Department is rolling out special ticket pricing for the Boise State game with tickets starting as low as $19. Students can purchase tickets for $10; they can also purchase up to four guest tickets for $10 each. Ticket info: 559.278.DOGS (3647) or http://www.gobulldogs.com/index.aspx?path=football.
For more information, contact University flyover coordinator Tom Uribes, public affairs specialist for University Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
144th Fighter Wing – http://www.144fw.ang.af.mil/