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RAF Lakenheath celebrates 20 years of the F-15E Strike Eagle

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing blazes through the sky during a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012.  The first F-15E arrived to Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Conner Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing blazes through the sky during a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012. The first F-15E arrived to Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Conner Estes)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing prepares to park as Liberty Wing Airmen standby during a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012.  The first F-15E arrived at Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- An F-15E Strike Eagle from the 48th Fighter Wing prepares to park as Liberty Wing Airmen standby during a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012. The first F-15E arrived at Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Megan P. Lyon)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- In spite of the recent weather, 48th Fighter Wing mission continues and Liberty Wing Airmen held a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012.  The first F-15E Strike Eagle arrived to Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Lee A. Osberry Jr.)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- In spite of the recent weather, 48th Fighter Wing mission continues and Liberty Wing Airmen held a 20th anniversary commemoration event, Feb. 10, 2012. The first F-15E Strike Eagle arrived to Lakenheath on Feb. 21, 1992 and has supported numerous U.S and NATO missions from Operation Provide Comfort in 1993 to Operations Odyssey Dawn and Unified Protector in 2011. The F-15E is a dual-role fighter designed to perform air-to-air and air-to-ground missions. An array of avionics and electronics systems gives the F-15E the capability to fight at low altitude, day or night, and in all weather. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Lee A. Osberry Jr.)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England -- 1992. "Melrose Place" and "Full House" were on the TV, Michael Jackson's "Black or White" was number one on the radio, "Aladdin" was playing in movie theaters, and President George H. W. Bush was in the White House.

And tucked away in a rural part of East Anglia, the first F-15E Strike Eagle touched down on the runway at RAF Lakenheath.

Fast forward to 2012 and the F-15E Strike Eagle is celebrating its 20th anniversary at the 48th Fighter Wing.

Master Sgt. Robert Griffith, 48th Operations Support Squadron unit deployment manager, then a young Airman working on the F-111 Aardvark, watched as the first F-15E landed.

"There was a lot of buzz. A lot of people here really wanted to see it because it's something new, something exciting," said Griffith.

The true difference was apparent the first time Griffith rode in the F-15E.

"I've had a taxi ride in an F-111 and F-15E, and it's the difference between watching a black-and-white TV and color [TV]," said Griffith.

But the aircraft wasn't the only thing that changed.

"The biggest thing I found was the mindset of the people," said Griffith. "I'm not going to say the F-111 attracted old fogies here, but we had certain types of personalities until we brought in a completely new plane with new capabilities. It's like they had something to prove. It was the new bad boy on the block. I love everything about what [this] type of aircraft can provide."

The F-15E is a dual-role fighter, performing both air-to-air and air-to-ground missions.

For retired Senior Master Sgt. Daniel Mahoney, who served as an aircraft maintainer on both the F-111 and F-15E, the arrival of the new aircraft was bittersweet.

"It was very mixed for me; you had the excitement of the new jets coming in, but we were also losing an incredible war machine in the F-111," he said.

RAF Lakenheath is the only U.S. Air Force base in Europe with F-15 capabilities.

"When a conflict arises we often think of the hot spot being in the Middle East and we're the closest ones to the fight," said Lt. Col. John Orchard, 492nd Fighter Squadron commander. "It means Lakenheath has been called into these conflicts time and time again because of how quickly they can get to the fight and provide air power to NATO."

Since its arrival at RAF Lakenheath, the F-15E has been involved in operations in Iraq, the Balkans, Kosovo, Afghanistan and Libya.

"It means we're very busy and people work very hard and there's never a day of rest," Orchard added. "The engineers did a fantastic job and the F-15s will last a lot longer than any of us expected."