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ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- Retired Col. Capozzi, then a captain, with his wife Joanne and their daughter kati. Kati was the first baby born into the 19th TFS at Shaw in 1982 and she is married to the last pilot to be assigned to the 19 FS before it is deactivated in September.
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Military, family history intertwined

Posted 5/26/2010   Updated 6/1/2010 Email story   Print story


by Capt. Ashley Conner
3rd Wing Public Affairs

5/26/2010 - ELMENDORF AIR FORCE BASE, Alaska -- In a lot of cases the military is the family business. Sons and daughters join the military to follow in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents that served before them. For the Capozzi family the Air Force is their business and wherever its location the 19th Fighter Squadron has often been their home.

The 19th FS is one of the Air Forces longest lived squadrons. The squadron was activated in 1917 and sent to France in January 1918. The squadron was stationed at Bellows Field, Hawaii and bombed by the Japanese on December 7, 1941. Later during World War II, the 19th FS was flying P-47D Thunderbolts out of Okinawa, Japan. They were deactivated from 1946 until 1982.

In May 1982 Capt. Rocky Capozzi was assigned to the 19th Tactical Fighter Squadron at Shaw AFB, S.C. At the time, his wife Joanne was pregnant with the couple's third child.

"The squadron was formally reactivated on July 1, 1982 but it wasn't fully manned until later that fall when we received our first infusion of B Course or long course graduates," said retired Col. Rocky Capozzi. "Among that group of new fighter pilots was Capt. Gary North who is now Gen. Gary North, commander, Pacific Air Forces."

"In 1982 the 19th was flying 'small tail' Block 10 aircraft. Its mission was "Close Air Support, Interdiction, and (point) Air Defense," said Colonel Capozzi. The 19th was the validation squadron for F-16s island hopping across the Atlantic for reinforcement of Europe, if need be."

In September of 1982 a new addition joined the squadron and the Capozzi family. Daughter Kati would begin her bond with the 19th. She was the first Gamechick, a name given to female members of the squadron, born in the 19th since its reactivation.

Captain Capozzi was the squadron's Plans officer until January 1984 when he was reassigned to the 10th TFS at Hahn Air Base, Germany.

Five years after the reactivation of the 19th, the squadron broke the world record for the number of F-16 sorties flown in one day - an impressive 160 sorties in 12 hours.

After assignments in Germany, Virginia, and Colorado now Lt. Col. Capozzi arrived back at Shaw AFB to be the director of operations and then the commander of the 19 TFS.

To be back in the 19th "felt great," said Colonel Capozzi. I was "blessed, in-fact. The Cold War was ending. There were draw down plans in the making and Air Combat Command had just purged most of the field grade officers out of flying squadrons. I was coming off a three year joint tour and was thrilled that I was getting a chance to get back to a flying unit."

Colonel Capozzi was the commander from 1992 to 1993 before he passed the reigns to the final Viper Gamecock commander months before the squadron was moved to Elmendorf and began flying the F-15C.

"My first memories of being in the Gamecock family were from my dad's second tour. I specifically remember the families bonding together as we sent our dads off to Operation Southern Watch", said Kati, who was in Elementary school at the time. "It was important to our families, like it still is today, to rely on each other in the absence of our fathers."

Colonel Capozzi didn't stay too far from his old squadron and in the final move of his career came to Elmendorf as the vice commander of Eleventh Air Force.

This final move was an important one for first baby born in the 19th. Kati, now 20, fell in love with Alaska and Lt. Daniel Wilkinson, a 19 FS pilot.

"Becoming part of the Gamecocks as an adult was sometimes familiar and other times quite different", said Kati. "I remembered my father working what seemed to be, at times, excessively long hours but I didn't really understand what was so important about a debrief. This time around I still didn't like it but I had a better idea what my husband was doing."

Although the airframe and the base had changed, Kati said the community was still as inviting and close knit as it once had been.

In 2006, the couple took an assignment as an exchange officer in France; Kati arrived back in Alaska in September 2009. Major Wilkinson joined her after completion of the F-15 transition course at Tyndall AFB, Fla. in January 2010.

This assignment in the 19th would be short lived. Major Wilkinson got word while he was still at Tyndall that he would be the last pilot assigned to the 19th and the squadron would close shortly after his arrival.

After only five months at Elmendorf, Major Wilkinson is going to Afghanistan to fly the MC-12.

"I will miss the Eagle," said Major Wilkinson. "She has been good to me. My fini flight was one of the hardest things I've done but I'm needed somewhere else right now. I'm excited to go support the troops on the ground."

While Major Wilkinson is deployed his wife will have plenty of support in Alaska.

"It's never easy to be away from someone you love but I'm lucky my parents live here along with my brother and his family who just move to Alaska. I'll have plenty of support. I know not everyone is as fortunate as I am to have family so close. We need to remember the families who have endured multiple deployments so far from home and support them."

The Capozzi family can look back on their family history and can't help but trace it along with the history of the 19th.

"I've had a 28-year long professional and personal relationship with the squadron," said Colonel Capozzi. "So there's this unusual set of circumstances that keeps bringing me into the 19 FS orbit. In 2006, I presented the squadron with a Gamecock flag that that had been a gift to me from my flight commanders. At the time I presented the flag, I didn't imagine the squadron would be inactivated so soon. I am sad the 19 FS and its pilots are going away, once again."

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