Marine Crosses Into the Blue, Pilots F-22 'Raptor'
(July 22, 2010)
After climbing into the cockpit of an F-22 “Raptor” to perform
a system's check, Lt. Col. David R. Berke, the Marine Corps F-22 exchange pilot,
422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., glances over to
his air traffic controller for further instructions June 25, 2010. For
approximately four weeks, Berke participated in exercise Trident Warrior held at
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar.
||Marine Corps Air Station Miramar (july 19, 2010) - When he
was a child growing up in Southern California, Lt. Col.
David R. Berke was always enamored with the military
He would spend hours outside under the flight path leading
into Marine Corps Air Station El Toro staring into the sky,
watching the jets land.
“It was a major motivator to both fly and be a Marine,” said
Berke, as he reminisced about what he wanted to be when he
grew up. “I remember vividly, at age 16 I committed to
joining the Marine Corps and pursued that goal until I was
For the “SoCal” native, no other experience would be as
rewarding as becoming a Marine – let alone becoming a pilot.
Upon graduation from El Toro High School in 1990 and after
careful consideration of his options, Berke visited his
local Marine Corps officer selection office and became an
officer candidate – selecting the Platoon Leaders Course as
the program to earn his commission.|
“I was very proud and supportive of his decision,” said
Berke's mother, Arelene Anderson. “He always talked about
joining [the Marine Corps] as a child. I was happy with his
He then spent the next four years at California State
University in Fullerton, working toward his Bachelor of Arts
degree in political science. Once he graduated from college
in 1994, Berke was commissioned a second lieutenant in a
ceremony held at MCAS El Toro's Officer's Club.
This was a proud moment for Berke because he was the first
in his family to join the service – and not just any
service, but the one he believed to be the best, the Marine
“I was contracted as a ground officer and was lucky enough
to be selected for aviation,” said Berke. “I always wanted
to be a pilot, but I didn't know I was going to flight
school until the end of [The Basic School].”
For the next few years, Berke went through a rigorous
training schedule in preparation to becoming a Marine
aviator. He received classroom instruction in aerodynamics,
aircraft engines and systems, meteorology, navigation, and
flight rules and regulations. Berke also received field
instruction in survival tactics, survival swimming and
In 1997, his childhood dream became a reality, and Berke
began his career as a fighter pilot flying F/A-18 “Hornets.”
This was a notable feat for Berke considering many people
“wash out” of Flight Training School for various reasons.
Since becoming a pilot, Berke has deployed twice on aircraft
carriers to both Iraq and Afghanistan, delivering ordnance
in support of the Marines on the ground. He also did a tour
as a “Top Gun” instructor, officially titled strike fighter
tactics instructor, and was the executive officer for Marine
Fighter Attack Squadron 314, MCAS Miramar.
However, according to Berke, the most notable and
influential experience in his career was serving in ground
combat as an Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company forward air
controller in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006.
“Leading Marines in combat, despite its tremendous
challenges, has been my biggest honor,” said Berke
In 2008, after spending more than a decade flying Hornets,
Berke was selected to an exchange pilot program with the Air
Force. He competed with several other applicants through a
selection board process and became the first Marine pilot to
fly an F-22 “Raptor,” which is a fifth-generation aircraft
that uses stealth technology and was primarily designed with
additional capabilities that include ground attack,
electronic warfare and signals intelligence.
“To be the first Marine to do something is a real honor,”
said Berke, the Marine Corps F-22 exchange pilot, 422nd Test
and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. “I
can't express how lucky I am to have been afforded this
“Being the first and only [Marine] to be selected for that
position is absolutely amazing and incredible,” added the
While it has been personally rewarding for Berke to fly the
Raptor, he takes the responsibility very seriously.
“The Corps has made a big investment in my tour flying the
Raptor,” said Berke, “but most importantly, I have been
given the privilege and responsibility of learning the fifth
generation employment to prepare for the Marine Corps' [F-35
‘Joint Strike Fighter'] arrival.”
Berke explained that though the F/A-18 is a great aircraft
with numerous capabilities, the stealth, speed and
situational awareness of the F-22 are unmatched. The Raptor
is a significant leap forward in virtually all metrics for
aviation. Combining the F-22 and F/A-18 make both aircraft
much more lethal and survivable.
“I can't wait for the Corps to get the JSF,” said Berke. “It
will be a game changer for us and the Marines in the fight.”
With only a year left in his tour at 422nd TES, Berke is not
sure what he will be doing next or where he will go. He does
mention that the command board is in progress, and if he is
selected, he will transfer to wherever the unit is.
“I've had a great career thus far, and I'm optimistic that
whatever I do next will be rewarding,” concluded Berke.
Article and photo by USMC SSgt. Christine Polvorosa|
Marine Corps Air Station Miramar
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