Son Follows Father's Pilot Legacy
by U.S. Air National Guard Maj. Angela Walz
Some sons walk in their father’s footsteps,
while others fly. That sentiment was especially true for father-son
F-16 pilot duo, Lt. Col. Joseph Thomas and 1st Lt. Nathan Thomas,
at the 162nd Wing this year.
In early 2022, Nathan
arrived at Morris Air National Guard base for the F-16 Fighting
Falcon Basic Course.
July 19, 2022 - 1st Lt. Nathan Thomas, an active-duty F-16 student pilot with his dad, Lt. Col. Joseph Thomas, a Drill Status Guardsman F-16 instructor pilot with the 162nd Wing in Tucson, Arizona
shortly before they fly a training mission in the F-16
Fighting Falcon behind them. (Image created by USA
Patriotism! from U.S. Air National Guard photo by Maj. Angela Walz.)
Typically, the unit hosts student pilots
from around the country and the world, who have never been to the
Old Pueblo. Yet for Nathan, the assignment was a homecoming and a
Nearly 20 years ago, Joseph joined the Air National
Guard family after ten years of active duty service as an F-16 pilot
at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Joseph moved to the Netherlands to
participate in a Dutch exchange tour, bringing along his own family,
to include young Nathan.
“When I was younger, we moved to a
couple different places,” said Nathan. “As a kid, I thought that was
pretty normal, and I have some pretty good memories from Europe.”
The Thomas family eventually returned to Arizona, settling in
Tucson, where Nathan graduated from Salpointe Catholic High School.
Despite being a fighter pilot, Joseph admits he and his wife
tended to hover in their parenting.
“We are helicopter
parents for sure, but we had to check ourselves,” said Joseph. “We
wanted [Nathan] to build his own path.”
After high school,
Nathan decided to attend the Air Force Academy, which was his
father’s alma mater. However, Joseph proudly shared that in addition
to studying civil engineering, Nathan was an accomplished
cross-country runner for the Falcons.
“Growing up, there was
never any push from dad to go to the academy,” said Nathan. “But his
dad was a Naval Academy graduate, so our family was just familiar
with the military service academies. But the Air Force seemed like
the best fit.”
“We were super happy,” said Joseph. “We
enjoyed all the parents’ weekends and everything we got to see from
the other side. But for Nathan, you really don’t know what role
you’ll have until you’re on your way to your career.”
continued a similar trajectory as his father and was selected to
become a pilot. He attended undergraduate pilot training in
Oklahoma, but he got his first taste of family separation when his
wife Shanna was assigned to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
“Especially starting with a new marriage, I had a lot of military
family questions,” said Nathan. “I know I’ve asked my mom and dad
because they both had a lot of good perspective on that.”
After three years of training and living apart from his wife, Nathan
was up for his aircraft assignment, and subsequently, his next duty
“You just try your best and everybody submits a
dream sheet, but everybody in my class would be happy flying any
fighter,” said Nathan. “I was very thankful and surprised when I got
Having learned where his next training tracks could
take him, Nathan requested an assignment at Luke AFB to at least be
closer to family. However, serendipity struck again, and the Air
Force Personnel Center offered him an even better option.
“They totally helped me out and said I could come here to the Guard
unit to train,” said Nathan. “It’s very selective because they
don’t’ have very large class sizes here, so I banked on Luke because
I know they have a couple F-16 squadrons there. But [AFPC] came back
with one better.”
While Nathan was on a similar journey to
his father’s, Joseph said that he and his wife committed to hovering
“I know the path he’s going into, but we want him to
figure it out on his own,” said Joseph.” “There’s been a couple
things like, ‘Hey, dad, what about this,’ and we can help him put
things into perspective, but we definitely want him to have his own
Joseph said that he hadn’t revealed his
relationship with Nathan to many people in the squadron, but he
continues to serve as an instructor pilot as a drill status
guardsman and could not resist an opportunity to train with his son.
“Halfway through his training, I got to fly Red Air for a
mission he was on. So I got to be a training aid for him, an that
was really fun,” said Joseph.
According to Nathan, training
at the 162nd Wing offered more advantages than being close to home.
“We have friends that are training at other places, and it
sounds like there are so many students,” said Nathan. “Our classes
are two to four, so we are really fortunate because we get extra
attention if we need help in a certain area. It feels more
Ultimately, Nathan and Joseph said that the
experience has been special to their family, and they are grateful
for where their paths have taken them, and how they’ve taken them.
“It’s super nice to be here near family because I feel like
that’s such a unique opportunity, especially in the military,” said
Nathan. “But I appreciate how he wants me to have my own experience
and figure it out for myself.”
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