Some in the business aviation community leave behind their families and jobs to serve in active war zones. In the continuing AIN series intended to recognize those in our community who defend the way of life we continue to enjoy back home, senior editor David A. Lombardo spoke with Citation X captain and Fortune 100 company aviation safety director Gary Cooke about his service as flight commander of a C-5 Reserve unit, an instructor pilot, flight safety officer and CRM monitor. This is Cooke’s story. If you or someone you know in business aviation is absent and in harm’s way on our behalf, we’d like to hear from you.
I come from a family of aviators. My father was a pilot, and my grandfather, also a pilot, is in the Idaho Aviation Hall of Fame. I have loved aviation for as long as I can remember,” Gary Cooke told AIN.
“In the early 1980s you needed 3,000 hours of jet time to get a professional flying job, and I didn’t want to go through the gamut of jobs to build that time up. So I decided to attend the University of Idaho and join the ROTC, where I applied and was selected for Air Force pilot training. I had always wanted to fly the C-5, so after graduation I chose C-5 flight school and upon completion I was assigned to Dover Air Force Base for five years flying the C-5,” he said.
When Cooke’s active-duty commitment ended he stayed on as an Air Force Reserve officer and for the past 19 years has been assigned to Westover. He is currently a flight commander of a C-5 Reserve unit, an instructor pilot, flight safety officer and CRM monitor.
Cooke said he continues to serve because of his “commitment to my country” but was quick to add, “I love the camaraderie within the unit, not to mention it is still is a great deal of fun to fly the C-5.”
Cooke generally does not deploy but rather he flies trips between home base and the Middle East. He is required to fly a minimum of four overseas sorties within
a given six-month period.
“They sometimes take me away from home and work for as long as 14 days,” he said. “However, in 2007 I did deploy for 120 days to the Middle East as
the chief of safety for the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing, the world’s largest air refueling/ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] wing.
“My deployment was pretty tough for my wife, Margaret. She had broken her foot just two weeks before my departure and had to adapt to day-to-day life without my being there to help. Fortunately we had great support from family and friends in the community. My son particularly had a hard time with my absence; it took him about two months to cope effectively.”
As a civilian Cooke is a Citation X captain and aviation safety director for a Fortune 100 company based in the northeastern U.S. In addition to implementing and maintaining his aviation department’s IS-BAO-certified safety management system, he is also a Faast (FAA Safety Team) representative in the FAA Northeast region, where he works on the military collision avoidance program.
“My company is understanding and accommodates my military schedule,” Cooke said. “It really works with me to be sure I have the time I need for military service. It works out pretty well usually, with minimal schedule disruption. Our other pilots fill in while I’m gone, and we have a contract pilot on call.
“I am lucky to be married to a great woman who raises our children and is supportive of what I do. She is flexible and has watched me come and go since we met. Our four kids range in age from seven to 12, and they’ve just grown up with this lifestyle. When I’m away on assignment I miss my family more than anything, especially when I see other families out having family time together. If anything, it makes us value our time together all the more when I’m home. The fact is, all of my family, friends and coworkers are extremely supportive of our country and my service; I cannot begin to thank them enough.
If you know someone from the business aviation industry who is currently serving in a war zone, please contact David A. Lombardo at email@example.com.