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From small town kid to top fighter pilot

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. K. Tucker Owen
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs
What does it take to be named the top fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force?

For “Fuel,” 31st Operations Support Squadron chief of weapons and tactics, it’s a culmination of ten years’ work in the Air Force.

The Gen. Claire Lee Chennault Award is given each year for significant achievement in fighter warfare tactics and development; Fuel was announced as the award’s recipient for 2019.

“I feel that it’s an award that puts credit on the last year,” said Fuel. “It was a great year for the wing, the squadron and myself, but to me it’s more of a decade process. When I look at it, that’s what I’ll see.”

In USAFE commander Gen. Jeffrey Harrigian’s endorsement of Fuel for the award, he stated that “It is with great pleasure and complete confidence that I endorse [Fuel] for the prestigious Lt Gen Claire L. Chennault Award. Fuel’s leadership, instructional ability, and tactical prowess were instrumental in the 31 FW’s successes in both the European theater but also the Central Command theater, having worldwide impact.”

Competition as motivation is a recurring theme in Fuel’s life, starting from when he was a kid growing up in Leavenworth, Minnesota, participating in extracurriculars like football and wrestling. With a father and grandfather to look up to who served in the Army and Navy respectively, it made sense for him to set his sights on the military after high school. After thorough research and mentoring from Air Force veterans, he chose the Air Force Academy as his path.

“It was a challenging 4 years,” said Fuel. “I reevaluated my decision more than a few times, thinking it may not be for me. Thankfully I had great, supportive people around me, and kept in mind one of my favorite quotes from Jimmy Dugan: ‘It’s supposed to be hard. If it wasn’t hard, everyone would do it. The hard is what makes it great.’”

Nowadays, Fuel is pursuing competition on a different field - as an F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the 555th Fighter Squadron. His dedication to the craft is clear, not only because of the award he won but also the passion with which he undertakes the job.

“I'm driven by competition,” said Fuel. “In the world of aerial training and combat, generally there is a winner and a loser. Coming into a flight or a mission and putting all your learning and preparation on the table to see if you can beat your adversary is a great motivator.”

After numerous duty stations, deployments and TDYs in his 15-year career, Fuel confessed that Aviano Air Base has been his favorite assignment of them all.

“It has some of the greatest views, phenomenal weather and a fantastic mission set where we’re close to almost every fight going on, on planet Earth,” said Fuel. “We get a mixture of real world missions, we live in a beautiful place, and we can go on vacation to umpteen countries in our time here. It should be everybody’s favorite assignment.”