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Airman Takes "Fini" Flight After 35 Years of Military Service

A 145th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft made its way beneath an arc of water spraying from two fire trucks as it taxied to its parking spot.  In a tradition nearly as old as military aviation itself, Senior Master Sgt. Philip Smith completed his final “fini” flight at the North Carolina Air National Guard base on January 16, 2014, symbolizing the end of 35 years of honorable military service.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

A 145th Airlift Wing C-130 Hercules aircraft made its way beneath an arc of water spraying from two fire trucks as it taxied to its parking spot. In a tradition nearly as old as military aviation itself, Senior Master Sgt. Philip Smith completed his final “fini” flight at the North Carolina Air National Guard base on January 16, 2014, symbolizing the end of 35 years of honorable military service. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Robert S. Bartlett, III, loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron, dowses fellow aircrew member, Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final, or “fini” flight.  Smith will retire in January on his 60th birthday after serving more than 35 years in the military and 24 years as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron.  Fini flight celebrations are an old tradition in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. Their origins can be traced back at least as far as the Vietnam War.  Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Robert S. Bartlett, III, loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron, dowses fellow aircrew member, Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final, or “fini” flight. Smith will retire in January on his 60th birthday after serving more than 35 years in the military and 24 years as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron. Fini flight celebrations are an old tradition in the U.S. Air Force and Air National Guard. Their origins can be traced back at least as far as the Vietnam War. Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Roger E. Williams, Jr., Commander, 145th Airlift Wing, congratulates Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final, or fini flight, onboard a 145th AW C-130 Hercules aircraft after serving more than 35 years in the military, 24 of those years were as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron.  Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Roger E. Williams, Jr., Commander, 145th Airlift Wing, congratulates Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final, or fini flight, onboard a 145th AW C-130 Hercules aircraft after serving more than 35 years in the military, 24 of those years were as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron. Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Quincy Huneycutt, Vice Wing Commander, 145th Airlift Wing, congratulates Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final flight onboard a 145th AW C-130 Hercules aircraft.  He served more than 35 years in the military, 24 of those years were as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron.  Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement.  (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Quincy Huneycutt, Vice Wing Commander, 145th Airlift Wing, congratulates Senior Master Sgt. Philip H. Smith after Smith completed his final flight onboard a 145th AW C-130 Hercules aircraft. He served more than 35 years in the military, 24 of those years were as a tactic loadmaster for the 156th Airlift Squadron. Smith’s fini flight was held at the North Carolina Air National Guard base, Charlotte-Douglas Intl. airport, January 16, 2014 in honor of his retirement. (Air National Guard photo by Master Sgt. Patricia F. Moran, 145th Public Affairs/Released)

Charlotte, NC -- In a tradition nearly as old as military aviation itself, Senior Master Sgt. Philip Smith completed his final flight at the North Carolina Air National Guard base on January 16, 2014, symbolizing the end of 35 years of honorable military service.

The C-130 Hercules aircraft made its way beneath an arc of water spraying from two fire trucks as it taxied to its parking spot. Power was cut to the engines then a crowd of fellow airmen came out cheering as Smith made his way down the stairs onto the tarmac. Smith's face went from smiling to shock as fellow aircrew member; Master Sgt. Robert S. Bartlett, III, abruptly poured a barrel- size cooler of ice water over the loadmaster's head from behind. After Smith regained his composure, a line quickly formed by the onlookers seeking the opportunity to shake his hand and bid him farewell.

It's assumed that the tradition of fini-flights came from the U.S. Army Air Force days of the World War II era. They were designed to accompany milestones in the career of the entire aircrew, respected individuals of rank or repute, or a commander's departure to another command or retirement. The tradition was first officially noted in Vietnam when the aircrew commemorated the completion of 100 missions.

Smith retires on his birthday at age 60 after serving more than 35 years in the military. Smith joined the Army in 1972, and in June 1978 he continued his career by enlisting in the North Carolina Air National Guard as part of the 145th Aerial Port Squadron. Smith then retrained to become a member of the 156th Airlift Squadron as a C-130 Loadmaster, serving in that capacity for 24 years. Half of his lifetime has been devoted to the military. During that time Smith has chalked up over 7215 flying hours, 3427 sorties, 731 Combat hours and 517 Combat sorties. Smith deployed numerous times, serving in support of Operation Provide Promise in Bosnia, as well as Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Smith also supported the Modular Airborne Firefighting System mission (MAFFS) since 1994.

In the Air National Guard you can develop a lot of valuable relationships, especially when you have served half of your lifetime with the same unit. You come to know your fellow airmen as family, not just "brothers in arms". So in closing, we at the 145th Airlift Wing would like say, "Phil, we wish you much joy with your grandchildren and many blessings as you move into the next chapter of your life!"