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Scott Lysford, Frazee, Minn., Published March 30 2013

Letter: Former adjutant general doomed Hooligans

While reading Dave Olson’s recent article about the Happy Hooligans’ future without airplanes, I couldn’t help but reflect on my years as a fighter pilot with the 178th Fighter Squadron. And, more importantly, to reflect on the path North Dakota military leaders and legislators took many years ago that brought the Hooligans to this end.

Be careful where you shift your angst and blame when you long for the great tradition of the Happy Hooligans flying aircraft, let alone fighters, over Fargo. Many point to the Department of Defense and Base Realignment of 2005 that retired the Hooligans F-16s in 2007 as the death of this great tradition. However, those of us who served during this time know a different story – a story of one man’s ambition to bring F-15s to the North Dakota Air National Guard and how his miscalculations ultimately spelled the doom for future generations of Hooligans flying aircraft in the North Dakota Air National Guard.

During his time as both the wing commander and adjutant general for the Happy Hooligans, Mike Haugen was an ardent advocate for the F-15 “Eagle,” even sporting the license plate “F15” on his vehicle for years. In 2001 or 2002, the life cycle of the Hooligans’ F-16s were coming to an end. Because of the Hooligan mission and track record, the Department of Defense offered the Hooligans the newer F-16C model. With the help of legislators, Haugen started a campaign to acquire the F-15 instead of the F-16C offered. This miscalculation ultimately resulted in the DOD offering these same F-16Cs to the Duluth Air National Guard and letting the Hooligans’ F-16s die in Base Realignment of 2005.

Recently Duluth’s F-16Cs were updated to the newest F-16s in the Air Force inventory. These new F-16s increase the likelihood that our neighbors to the east will be flying fighters well into the next generation of fighter pilots. Interestingly, the Duluth Air National Guard just accomplished a feat that eluded the Hooligans for the 60 years they flew fighter aircraft: a deployment to a combat theater of operations in Afghanistan.

This takes nothing away from the quality and effort on the global war on terror being waged by the current members of the North Dakota Air National Guard as they “fly” in the MQ-1 Predator. I was proud to serve that last four years of my 23-year career with these guardsman and was always impressed with the level of professionalism of the guardsman from North Dakota. No doubt this will continue to be the case.

I just thought it important to note as a proud fighter pilot that, in my opinion, the Happy Hooligans’ soon-to-be “Penguin Squadron” points back to the miscalculations of then Adjutant Gen. Haugen. Perhaps he should change his license plate to “Penguin.”

“Poacher” Lysford is a retired lieutenant colonel, USAF.