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9,000th F-35 maintainer headed to 419 FW

A1C Benjamin Missel inspects a landing gear trainer in the F-35 Academic Training Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. on Mar. 12, 2020.

Airman 1st Class Benjamin Missel inspects a landing gear trainer in the F-35 Academic Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. March 12. Missel graduated as the 9,000th F-35 maintainer from the training program on March 13.

A1C Benjamin Missel poses with a landing gear trainer in the F-35 Academic Training Center, Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. on Mar. 12, 2020.

Airman 1st Class Benjamin Missel poses with a landing gear trainer in the F-35 Academic Training Center at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. on March 12. Missel graduated as the 9,000th F-35 maintainer from the training program March 13.

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- Airman 1st Class Benjamin Missel graduated as the 9,000th F-35 maintainer from the training program here March 13.

Following graduation, Missel reported to Luke AFB, Arizona, for follow-on training. Missel is an Air Force reservist assigned to the 419th Fighter Wing at Hill AFB, Utah.

“We’re so proud of the work done by the maintainers at the Academic Training Center,” said Chief Master Sgt. Alex Morgan, 33d Fighter Wing command chief. “This milestone is really exciting for us. These Airmen are the future of the F-35 program that ultimately deliver a diverse and lethal capability not just to the Air Force, but to the joint force.”

After growing up around the Air Force at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, Missel followed his father’s example and enlisted.

“I always had the military on my radar, but wasn’t sure which route I should pursue,” Missel said. “I chose the maintenance career field because I wanted to be around aircraft and learn more about the pilot community.”

He plans to pursue a bachelor’s degree at Utah State University while stationed at Hill AFB. Despite his strong love for maintenance, he admits he wants to shift his priorities to flying and go to pilot training in the future.

“Spending time around the F-35 has been pretty sweet,” Missel said. “It’s making me think about being a fighter pilot more and more.”

When asked what he’s looking forward to about Utah, he said he’s excited to be closer to home and in-depth learning on the F-35 mission,

“I can’t wait to put everything I’ve learned to use and be part of an operational squadron,” he said.

Maintainers for the F-35 keep a high level of technical expertise because of the aircraft’s complex computing system. At the 33rd FW, training for students rotates between classroom and training devices. The training can range from one day to four and a half months depending on the student’s specific job assignment.

The 419th FW flies and maintains a fleet of 78 F-35s in a Total Force partnership with the 388th FW -- a construct that capitalizes on the strengths of both the Reserve and active duty components.