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Meet the commander: 356th Fighter Squadron

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Christensen

U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. James Christensen


With the reactivation of the 356th Fighter Squadron Oct. 10, the Iceman team brings Eielson’s legacy into the 21st century. Commanding the 354th Fighter Wing’s newest squadron and U.S. Pacific Air Forces’ first-ever F-35A Lightning II fighter squadron is Lt. Col. James Christensen.

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
A: I grew up in San Diego, California. Spent my time surfing, diving and riding dirt bikes. After high school, I earned my commission through the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps program at Brigham Young University, a private university in Utah. I met my wife, Amanda while going to college there. We have two sets of twins, born 18 months apart. They are now in 7th and 5th grades. The busiest time in our lives was when we had those four small toddlers in diapers and car seats, meanwhile I was sent to a Red Flag, Squadron Officer School, two deployments to Operation Enduring Freedom, and Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nevada. I missed out on 21 of the younger twin’s first 24 months—so I’m trying to make up for it now! Family is big for me. Without support from our families we lose strength as a force. So it is very important to me that we take care of our Airmen and their families.

Q: What is the 356th FS’s mission?
A: The 356th FS is reactivating to bring the U.S. Air Force’s F-35As out to the Pacific Theater. Looking back at the squadron history, the 356th Tactical Fighter Squadron was previously stationed in the Pacific for both the Vietnam Conflict, and to defend Korea and Japan out of Kunsan and Misawa Air Bases. We are excited to bring the squadron back to the Indo-Pacific Command theater. We are strategically placed here in Alaska to prepare and project 5th generation stealth fighter capabilities, working with our program partners and allies in the Pacific and to be ready, if called, to deploy around the world. I am excited to help the 354th FW at Eielson transition to an expeditionary-focused combat fighter wing.

Q: Do you have any specific goals as you stand up the 356th FS?
A: Join with the Combat Training Squadron, Range Detachment, 3rd Wing and the other units around Alaska to make Eielson the premier training location for 5th generation fighters. I want our F-35-trained men and women to look forward to coming to Alaska to train and live. That means we make the squadron the best assignment in the U.S. Air Force—for flying and fighting as well as for our families and local community. Establishing a culture where people belong and want to contribute to the mission is my goal.

Q: What does the addition of the 356th FS mean for the 354th FW, and what do you hope the new squadron brings to the Iceman team?
A: The 354th FW has done an amazing job preparing for the arrival of the F-35. The transition to a combat force provider mindset is what we will all get to learn together. I will tell you that those 40,000 pounds of thrust out of a single engine have a really nice growl. Expect a lot of sore necks as people around the base look up to see the Lightning II in the pattern.

Q: What can 356th FS Airmen expect from you as their commander?
A: Everything we do in this squadron must be for the good of the team. That means in all aspects of professional and personal life. I expect dedication to the mission we have here, dedication to each other as fellow Green Demons (our mascot) and dedication personally to taking care of ourselves and our families. Without those three, the system gets out of balance and people cannot get the mission done. As the commander, I will dedicate my time and efforts to see you have everything you need to take care of each other and the mission.

Q: What do you foresee as your biggest challenge while here at Eielson?
A: Landing on snow! I have only done that once before and it was not very fun. I will be practicing my instrument flying skills in the simulators this winter while waiting for our first aircraft arrival. Really, every challenge here is an opportunity to do something no one else here has done. We get to blaze a new trail. That gets me up in the morning. I love problem solving.

Q: What do you look forward to doing while here at Eielson?
A: I love the outdoors so no matter the season expect to find me out there trying to get lost (figuratively of course). I have been looking for a snow machine for the family so we can experience the wild Alaskan wilderness in the winter. One of my personal goals is to acquire a “tailwheel endorsement” on my private pilot’s license, and go land on some remote dirt runways. Professionally, I cannot wait to fly the F-35 across the Pacific to train with our regional partners and allies.

Q: What has been the best experience thus far in your career?
A: By far the most tactical time in my career has been deploying to OEF as the squadron weapons officer. In that role, I taught every pilot in the squadron one-on-one, while also reviewing every weapon employment (and there was a massive amount) that we dropped or shot in that theater. Knowing that we kept fellow Americans alive each night was so rewarding. As an operational test pilot, I got to help design and implement software and hardware that improved the way the aircraft avionics and weapons systems integrated and displayed to the pilot. We pioneered new ways to find downed pilots in Search and Rescue—all exciting things. As a planner in the Aerospace Operations Center in Korea, I was able to draft and plan an entire air war Air Tasking Order to combat any aggression from the North Korean army—something that I put a lot of effort into to make sure we had a successful plan on the books for the day we were needed. Every assignment of my career has given me a chance to make an impact on airmen and the future capabilities of the U.S. Air Force. We all can make a difference.

Q: Do you have anything else you want to add?
A: I want everyone at Eielson to know that YOU are now a part of the very newest and most exciting program in the U.S. Air Force, no matter what you do on base or in the community, the F-35 is now your weapons system. Everyone here will help get us ready to send the F-35 into the enemy’s territory and win against advanced adversaries. The Green Demons welcome you to our team!