Some in the business aviation industry 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 chief pilot David Cassalia about his recent service in the U.S. Army. This is Cassalia’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 was raised in a military family; my dad was an Air Force pilot for 23 years. For as long as I can remember my parents taught a ‘country first’ way of life. There was never any question that I was going to fight for my country–only when,” David Cassalia told AIN.
Cassalia enlisted in the Army in 1969 and was a helicopter door gunner and crew chief during the Vietnam War serving with the C/158 Phoenix Birds.
When he finished his tour of duty he attended officer candidate school and then Army flight school. After the Vietnam war he remained in the reserves until retiring in the late 1990s. Cassalia said he was motivated by the events of 9/11 to return to active duty, and he rejoined the reserves in 2007. He plans to retire with 30 years of service in January 2013.
“Most recently I was assigned to fly a C-12 [military Super King Air 200] on ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] missions with Task Force ODIN [observe, detect, identify and neutralize). I was stationed at Combat Operating
Base Speicher Iraq with the 10th Mountain Division. Our job was aerial reconnaissance and to locate improvised explosive devices [IED] using a highly classified optical system,” he said.
“The missions I flew were high speed and often flown under difficult conditions such as high heat, low visibility and a sometimes crowded target area,” Cassalia said. “I know we were helping to keep IEDs and bad guys from killing our guys and that was rewarding. I would do it all over again. That’s how I feel. My wife, Tracy, on the other hand, said two wars are all I get to do, and who am I to disagree with her?”
Cassalia is chief pilot for an East Coast-based corporate flight department flying Falcon 2000s. “My company was supportive of my deployment, and when I returned I was welcomed back to my position as chief pilot. Before my active duty I recruited a contract pilot to fill in so our staffing would be the same. The helicopter chief pilot took over my management duties, and there is no question my pilots ended up flying a more aggressive schedule as a result of not having me around,” he said.
Cassalia said he received extensive support from his family and those in the aviation community during his deployment. “One of my biggest supporters was Robert Thompson of Dassault Falcon Jet,” he said. “Bob kept me in the loop about what was going on in corporate aviation and the Falcon community.
“Tracy is in aviation as well, so she also kept me up on the news. We were able to stay in touch regularly through Skype, which really helped a lot with loneliness. Calling and telling her goodnight and listening to her day made a big difference. We tried to get together, but the war schedule didn’t allow for the time. Without a doubt being away from my family was the most difficult thing for me; fortunately, I was allowed to return home on leave for my youngest daughter’s graduation from high school.”
Cassalia said his daughters Kelly and Brooke and three sons, Dave Junior, Matt and Michael, were also supportive. “My oldest daughter, Kelly, would send me care packages and Dave regularly sent e-mails. He’s a Naval F/A-18E Super Hornet pilot deployed with the Carrier Battle Group bombing Afghanistan,” he said.
“My kids are all old enough to understand why I was gone, and I hope I have set an example for them that we live in a country that is free because of the sacrifices of a few. The cost of living in this great country is not free, and I am glad I had the opportunity to serve,” he said.
If you know someone from the business aviation industry who is currently serving our country in a war zone, please contact David A. Lombardo at firstname.lastname@example.org