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Helmet wraps foster pride in pilots

A photo illustration of three helmet wraps

HGU-55/P helmets with wraps sit side-by-side Feb. 20, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. As part of an Air Force-wide initiative, the 23d Fighter Group has started using helmet wraps to increase morale and keep pilots connected to the rich history of the Flying Tigers. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration by Airman 1st Class Hayden Legg) (This image was manipulated by merging multiple photos in Adobe Photoshop.)

A photo of a pilot wearing a helmet

Lt. Col. John Bissell, 76th Fighter Squadron commander, wears an HGU-55/P helmet with wrap Feb. 13, 2020, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. As part of an Air Force-wide initiative, the 23d Fighter Group has started using helmet wraps to increase morale and keep pilots connected to the rich history of the Flying Tigers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Hayden Legg)

A photo of a pilot putting on a helmet

Capt. Kyle Rassmann, 74th Fighter Squadron pilot, puts on a helmet with wrap Jan. 7, 2019, at Moody Air Force Base, Georgia. As part of an Air Force-wide initiative, the 23d Fighter Group has started using helmet wraps to increase morale and keep pilots connected to the rich history of the Flying Tigers. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Taryn Butler)

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. --

Heritage is all around the Air Force, in patches and traditions, and now wrapped around the helmets of A-10C Thunderbolt II pilots.

The 23d Fighter Group has started using helmet wraps to increase morale and keep pilots, aircrew flight equipment specialists and crew chiefs connected to the rich history of the Flying Tigers.

“There's a lot of pride that goes along with it,” said Capt. Jonathan Swift, 23d Operations Support Squadron AFE flight commander. “We’re a part of the 23rd Fighter Group, a very historic unit within the Air Force. There's a lot of heritage that comes with that. So there's a strong connection between putting these wraps on the helmet and that heritage that we all share.”

Helmet wraps are decals designed to represent an individual squadron or airframe and foster esprit de corps among the pilots that wear them.

“What is, and always has been, constant is the importance of our mission and the teams that work together to ‘get ’er done,’” said Col. Ryan Haden, 23d Fighter Group commander. “We decided that a great way to foster pride would be to use heritage as a thread in stitching these teams together. These helmet wraps are emblematic of the pride we feel in who we are, what we do, how good our predecessors were and how well we continue to do our mission.”

Haden noticed a growing interest in helmet wraps around the Air Force and jumped at the opportunity to implement them for the 23d FG.

“Col. Haden was the one who got the ball rolling [for the 23d Wing],” Swift said. “He was following some posts from other units and he said, ‘hey, I want to implement this for the Flying Tigers.’ Then he looked to me because, as the AFE [commander], I oversee the equipment. So he said, ‘okay, you're in the natural position to take care of this project.’”

Swift coordinated with a local graphics and commercial printing company to design, print and form the wraps to the HGU-55/P helmet – acting as liaison between the company and the 23d FG to determine the best look for the wraps.

“That took a lot of back-and-forth between the company, me, Col. Haden, and the different squadron commanders, to come up with a vision of what we want,” Swift said. “They pulled elements from different parts of it and the way we broke it down is: The squadron commanders would have a say on what their squadron designs would be and Col. Haden [would provide] the final authority.”

The overall design has elements that are constant from squadron to squadron – the shark teeth and the aircraft metal background – but each squadron has unique differences in their wraps.

“There's a stripe that goes up the back of the helmet and up to the top,” Swift said. “The [design] the stripe has is based on the squadron colors. So for example, the 74th Fighter Squadron uses a blue stripe with a white lightning bolt, the 75th FS has a black and white checkerboard and the 76th FS has red with white stars.”

Then, within each squadron, pilots are given the choice between their current unit patch, a heritage patch or morale patch.

“A lot of guys here take pride in the shark teeth on the front of the plane,” said 1st Lt. Nicholas Scarpelli, 75th Fighter Squadron pilot. “So having that on your helmet as well, when you’re arming you can look over and see your flight lead, you see the teeth on the side of his helmet and you get that boost like ‘alright this is pretty awesome, what I’m doing.’”