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Face of Defense: Nevadan Becomes First Guard Thunderbird Pilot

By Lyndsey Sullivan
Special to American Forces Press Service

CARSON CITY, Nev., June 10, 2008 – Throughout his Air Force career, Nevada Air National Guard pilot Maj. Derek Routt has distinguished himself by emphasizing basic character traits such as integrity and work ethic.

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Air Force Maj. Derek Routt illustrates his enthusiasm for flying in an F-16 at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in 2005 during a Red Flag Exercise with 64th Aggressor Squadron. Photo courtesy of Tyson V. Rininger, TVR Photography

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

They promise to be the same attributes Routt upholds this fall when he becomes the first National Guard pilot to take to the skies with the Thunderbirds, the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron.

Routt, 38, is the first Air National Guard pilot chosen to fly with the team. Other Guard airmen have held enlisted positions on the team, but Routt is the first pilot, officials said.

The application process for the world-renowned team was arduous. Routt completed the 30-page application for the Thunderbird team in January, and he made the first cut with five other pilots.

The selection process was only beginning, though. A series of lengthy interviews in Florida, South Carolina and Las Vegas took months, but Routt said it was worth the chance.

“I would watch the Thunderbirds and always thought they were truly magnificent,” Routt said.

It wasn’t until May 30, the day after his birthday, that the son of a National Guardsman learned he would get the chance of a lifetime to fly with the Thunderbirds.

“It is an unbelievable honor,” Routt said “Not only to represent the Guard, the Air Force and the Army, but also my family. It’s really a defining moment.”

This year, half of the current team will receive new assignments, and Routt will take over the “No. 7” position as the operations officer and second in command. He will begin his four-month training period in July, receive his uniforms in October, and begin flying with the team in November, said Air Force Capt. Elizabeth Kreft, public affairs officer for the Thunderbirds.

Routt began his career as an active-duty nuclear missile launch officer at Malmstrom Air Force Base, Mont. Thirty months later, he crossed into aviation and trained in Texas. He received his wings in June 1997 and transferred to Florida, where he learned to fly the F-15C.

In May 1998, Japan became the next stop for the aspiring pilot. For the next three years, Routt was stationed with 67th Fighter Squadron in Japan, flying throughout Iraq, Singapore, Thailand, Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

In 2003, Routt was stationed at Nellis Air Force Base, in Las Vegas, and he flew F-16s for three years. In 2006, he transferred back to F-15s and joined the Nevada Air National Guard “High Rollers.” He currently serves in 65th Aggressor Squadron.

“It’s been great, and I hope it will continue to be great,” Routt said. “I’m sure it will.”

(Lyndsey Sullivan works in the Nevada National Guard Public Affairs Office.)

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Related Sites:
Thunderbirds Fact Sheet

Click photo for screen-resolution imageAir Force Maj. Derek Routt climbs into an F-16 preparing to fly with 64th Aggressor Squadron during a Red Flag Exercise at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., in 2005. Photo courtesy of Tyson V. Rininger, TVR Photography  
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