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 Constant Aviation general manager Patrick Dougherty about his recent service in Afghanistan with the Alabama National Guard. This is Dougherty’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.
Alabama National Guard
General manager, Constant Aviation, Birmingham, Ala.
All things considered, I wouldn’t trade my military experience for anything. At the age of 46 I continue to learn what is truly important in life,” Patrick Dougherty told AIN.
A staff sergeant with the Alabama National Guard, Dougherty was deployed as an infantryman from June 2009 to April 2010 and earned a combat action badge, Afghanistan Campaign Medal and NATO Afghanistan Service Medal.
“We were part of a team of 40 soldiers that provided security for a provincial reconstruction team [PRT] in Ghazni Province, Afghanistan, about 150 miles southeast of Kabul. It probably wasn’t the friendliest place in the world, but we met a lot of good people,” he said.
The PRT consisted of key people, including doctors, lawyers, engineers and State Department representatives, who could help set up governance, provide medical outreach, education, security and infrastructure support at any level within the province.
“Our security teams’ primary mission was to escort and provide security for the professionals as they traveled to various locations,” he said.
During his deployment Dougherty’s team conducted 280 missions, engaged in 44 fire fights and encountered 12 improvised explosive devices. “Through it all we met our objectives and brought everyone home safe,” he said. “It was somewhat like the rock star and the roadies. They got in front of the cameras and microphones; we got in front of the bad guys.”
Dougherty joined the Marine Corps in 1983 after graduating from high school and spent eight years on active duty before returning to civilian life to begin a career in aviation. In 2007 he learned the National Guard was recruiting enlisted men as old as 40 if they had prior military service.
“I thought it would be a great way to continue serving my country with the possibility of being able to retire from the military some day,” he said. “I knew there were two wars going on but I figured the possibility of deploying with the National Guard was less than 50 percent. So much for that idea, but I can honestly say, now that I’ve made it through one combat tour, it was a rewarding experience.”
In his civilian life, Dougherty is general manager of Constant Aviation in Birmingham, Ala., and he recognizes many people made many sacrifices when he was deployed.
“No facility wants to lose its general manager for 15 months, but our facility did quite well while I was gone. Stephen Maiden, our president, usually runs the company from Cleveland, but he had to make Birmingham his second home while I was deployed. Michael Arrington, my service manager, also stepped up to fill the void. Sacrifices were made all around me.
“The most difficult part of being deployed is not being with your family for so long. Amy and I have been married for 15 years, and she is a true aviation wife. She has been through a half-dozen relocations, including one to Europe, missed many dinners, and done a few ‘honey can you help me out this weekend?’ inventories, yet despite it all when I received my orders to go to Afghanistan she was 100 percent supportive,” he said.
During his last month of deployment to Afghanistan, Dougherty’s 21-year-old daughter, Alex, decided to join the Air Force. “She leaves for training this month and we’re certainly proud of her,” he said.
Dougherty says that during a deployment, it’s the little things you take for granted every day that really stick out. “You miss the creature comforts we all take for granted. In Afghanistan simple things like the bathroom are 500 yards away with a stroll through the mud,” he said. “And I missed football, though by staying up until 4 a.m. we did get to see the Crimson Tide play in the national championship.
“You also worry about little things back home because you have no control over them when you’re that far away. Did everyone get home from the Thanksgiving weekend in Atlanta? Did the oil get changed? All your daily and weekly routines are left to the responsibility of your loved ones,” he said.
“Of course on some level you can’t help but be concerned for your own safety when in a hostile environment. On average we engaged the enemy one out of every six missions. The training just kicks in because you have the comfort of knowing you have excellent leadership, you’re well trained, you have the best equipment available and you’re prepared for the worst.
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 email@example.com.