The last flying rhino
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio - To remember the proud heritage of the 906th Fighter Group, Col. Stephen M. Bastian with his son, a Junior ROTC member, present Lt. Col. Baldwin, 89th Airlift Squadron commander with the guidon he saved from the deactivated 906th Fighter Group. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Ken LaRock)
The last flying rhino

by Staff Sgt. Martin Moleski
445th Airlift Wing

4/10/2008 - WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio -- "Well, I'm the last one," said a satisfied Lt. Col. Stephen Bastian, a pilot with the 445th Operations Support Squadron. "Now, I can catch a deep breath."

After 34 years, 10 months and five days of distinguished service, Colonel Bastian, the last original flying rhino of the 89th Tactical Fighter Squadron, part of the 906th Fighter Group (now deactivated), was honored by family, friends and reservists old and new in a special retirement ceremony April 5, 2008. 

"You got to do it all," Col. Roger Gallet, 445th Operations Group commander, said in remarks during the ceremony. And he certainly did.

In 1981, Colonel Bastian graduated from Fighter Lead in Training at Holloman AFB, N.M, and F-4 Replacement Training Unit at McConnell AFB, Kan. Flying the F-4 at Andrews AFB, Md., gave way to an Air Reserve technician position at the 906th Fighter Group, Wright-Patterson AFB, Ohio.

"We called ourselves the Rhinos because that is what the F-4s looked like," Colonel Bastian said. The 89th Airlift Squadron, part of the 445th Airlift Wing, inherited the emblem of the Rhinos when the squadron stood up here in 1994.

Converting to the F-16 in 1989, Colonel Bastian amassed nearly 2,500 hours in fighter-type aircraft. With the deactivation of the 906th he was fortunate to be accepted by the 445th Airlift Wing and converted to the C-141 in 1994. While flying the C-141, he visited all seven continents including ten landings on the ice at McMurdo Station, Antarctica. During Operation Iraqi Freedom, he flew 27 aeromedical evacuation missions to Baghdad and Balad. In 2005, Colonel Bastian converted to the C-5 Galaxy and continued to fly world-wide until his retirement.

"You could always go down to Colonel Bastian's office and look for that voice of reason," said Col. Steven Johnson, 445th Airlift Wing vice commander, who presided over the retirement ceremony and worked with Colonel Bastian throughout the years.

To remember the proud heritage of the 906th Fighter Group, Colonel Bastian and his son, a Junior Air Force ROTC member, presented the 89th Airlift Squadron with the guidon he saved from the 89th Tactical Fighter Squadron during the retirement ceremony.

After receiving his awards and declarations, Colonel Bastian addressed the large crowd in attendance.

"To quote Jimmy Doolittle," Colonel Bastian said, "I could never be so lucky again."