General William L. Kirk is a father of the Red Flag Program, which was key to training USAF combat crews in the Gulf War. Born in 1932 in Louisiana, he and his four sisters grew up on a farm. When Kirk was 10 years old, his father arranged a flight for him in a Piper Cub, flown by a pilot passing through. This launched a career in military aviation! Kirk finished high school in 1950 and enlisted in the USAF in 1951. He trained as a jet mechanic but got the chance to become an aviation cadet. In April 1954, he was commissioned and received his wings. After advanced training, Kirk was assigned to his first operational unit, the 15th Tactical Reconnaissance Squadron, at Komaki AB, Japan. There he flew the Lockheed T-33 and RF-80, and the North American RF-86F.
Next he was assigned to the 6021st Composite Squadron, a special unit equipped with a variety of “recce” aircraft. Kirk flew the RF-86 and the Lockheed WT-33, which did “air sampling” of the upper atmospheric winds carrying radioactive dust from nuclear testing in Siberia. In the fall of 1957, he was assigned to the home of “tactical recce,” Shaw AFB, South Carolina, flying the McDonnell RF-101 Voodoo in the 17th TRS. In 1960, Kirk left reconnaissance and became a fighter pilot in the F-101 Voodoo. He was assigned to an all-weather, day and night, nuclear capable squadron on “Victor” alert at RAF Bentwaters, England. After 4 years there, he was assigned the USAFs first training unit for the hot new McDonnell F-4 Phantom II fighter.
Kirk completed the Fighter Weapons Instructor Course at Nellis AFB, Nevada, and he went to war flying in then-Colonel Robin Olds’ famed 8th Tactical Fighter Wing, the “Wolf Pack,” at Ubon AB, Thailand. There he joined an elite group of pilots who were “MiG killers,” shooting down a Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-17 and MiG-21. He received a Silver Star for each victory. After flying more than 100 combat missions, he was assigned to Eglin AFB, Florida. He served as an operations officer at Eglin, and then commanded the 4538th Fighter Weapons Squadron at Nellis AFB, Nevada. He returned to combat in 1971 to lead a project called Operation TEA-BALL, which led to an early warning network to combat North Vietnamese MiG attacks. After Air War College in 1971, Kirk went to Headquarters USAF in the Pentagon.
It was his directorate that introduced the concept of “Red Flag,” an intensive and realistic training program conducted in the wide-open spaces of Nevada. In 1973, he became Deputy Commander for Operations at Seymour Johnson AFB, North Carolina, and then moved to Holloman AFB, New Mexico, where he rose to Commander, 49th Tactical Fighter Wing. From 1977 to 1984, he served in various staff positions at Ninth Air Force and Pacific Air Force and was promoted to Major General. He returned to Shaw AFB to command Ninth Air Force in July 1985. After 2 years, he took command of United States Air Forces Europe. In 1989, Kirk retired as a General.