Moody pilot perseveres, named Daedalian Exceptional Pilot of 2011

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Jarrod Grammel
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
After being told his grades weren't good enough to attend the U.S. Air Force Academy, a young California native postponed his goal of following in his father's footsteps, who was a C-141 Starlifter flight engineer.

He went on to earn a bachelor's degree in criminal justice from California State University, Sacramento. He was only a few days away from taking a job at the Santa Cruz Police Department when another opportunity to join the Air Force presented itself.

"I was just a regular dude going to college when a friend told me about a program to join the Air Force," said U.S. Air Force Maj. Pat Dugan, HH-60G Pave Hawk pilot and 23d Wing executive officer. "I went to see a recruiter and they told me I couldn't be a pilot but could be a navigator instead. So I became a F-15E Strike Eagle weapons systems operator. But, I wanted to be in control and making the decisions."

As an F-15 weapons systems operator at his assignment at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, United Kingdom, Dugan was chosen to conduct the first operational tests of the Air Force Wind Corrected Munitions Dispenser. But, he still wanted to be a pilot. Finally in 2006, after two prior attempts, Dugan was selected to attend undergraduate pilot training, where he chose to fly the HH-60.

"Flying just always appealed to me," he said. "It is challenging, it is heroic and, well, it's awesome. You're up there, defying gravity and crossing great expanses of earth. I also wanted to do something not many people get to do while serving my country.

"I immediately knew I wanted to be a part of rescue and I couldn't think of a more relevant airframe than the HH-60," he added.

After completing his training, Dugan was assigned to the 41st Rescue Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga., where he rose to the ranks of instructor pilot in January 2012.

On June 28, 2012, Dugan's perseverance and hard work paid off when he was presented the 2011 Daedalian Exceptional Pilot Award. The award is presented to one pilot from each service based on "exceptional deeds performed to assure mission success, acts of valor as an aviator, or an extraordinary display of courage or leadership in the air in support of air operations."

According to his commander, Dugan excels in all of these areas.

"He's a go-getter," said Lt. Col. William Lowe, 41st RQS commander. "Everything he does, he does very well. I think what makes him so successful is that he sets goals, knows what he needs to do, and then seeks mentorship from senior officers. He knows exactly what questions to ask and asks questions most junior officers don't.

"His work ethic stands out the most," he added. Winning this award is significant because he is being recognized by an organization created by the very first pilots.

Dugan takes pride in being part of the rescue community. He wants to help the young soldiers who are on the ground, he said with his enthusiastic but laid back demeanor.

"I feel like rescue is the most tangible way to serve," said Dugan. "'That others may live.' That sums it up right there. I can't think of anything more selfless and honorable than going out there and risking your life to save somebody.

"By winning the 2011 Daedalian Exceptional Pilot Award I am representing the Air Force rescue community," he added. "I didn't do anything different than the rescue guys today, who are braving hostile fire and blinding dust."

At the award presentation, Dugan kept the mood light with jokes while acknowledging the people who helped him throughout his time at Moody.

"He has a playful sense of humor," said Lowe. "When a lot of people are recognizing him, he uses that humor to deflect the attention to the people who helped him accomplish it."

Since Dugan has been at Moody, he has deployed three times, supporting Operations Enduring Freedom, Iraqi Freedom, and New Dawn. Dugan's deployment to Iraq included more than 3,200 hours of alert coverage, supporting more than 417 special operations missions. While in Afghanistan, he saved the lives of more than 140 and provided critical life saving treatment to more than 200 additional coalition forces and Afghan local nationals.

"When deployed, I am also responsible for not only the crew but also the pararescuemen and combat rescue officers," said Dugan. "You have to make important decisions while making sure everybody feels comfortable and is prepared to perform their duties. I am responsible for the lives of those 16 people."

Deployments can be difficult for Dugan, who has a wife and two daughters, ages 2 and 4.

"It can be hard because of how much is asked of us," he said. "I think the most is important thing is to give your family 100 percent of yourself when you are with them. Actually be present when you're present."

In February 2012, Dugan became the 23d Wing executive officer. He said it can be a challenge balancing his duties as a pilot and executive officer.

"As a pilot, I save lives," said Dugan. "As an executive officer, I am serving my country. It can seem unglamorous at times, but I keep things moving and make sure the commander can make good decisions for the wing. I take pride in that."

After accomplishing his goal of becoming a pilot and his many achievements as a pilot, Dugan looks toward his future goals. He still remembers how honest the Air Force was when he wanted to attend the Academy.

"I want to be an effective and motivating leader by caring for the people under me," he said. "I don't want anybody to ever tell me I can't do something, and I work hard to ensure that."