by Airman 1st Class Jelani Gibson
82nd Training Wing Public Affairs
3/3/2014 - SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas -- Flying
high above ivory clouds is usually the perspective of a pilot, but
among the swirling sands and chaos of war, Maj. John Blocher, 80th
Flying Training Wing executive officer, would see it up close and
personal instead of seeing from the skies above.
During Operation Iraqi Freedom, air superiority would rain hellfire and
maverick missiles on enemy forces and strongholds below. The A-10
Thunderbolt II was no exception, and for Blocher, who piloted a plane
dubbed the tank killer, he was responsible for bringing that power to
the battlefield on the ground level.
As a first lieutenant in the December of 2002, Blocher was assigned as
an air liaison officer with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division, 2-69
Armor Battalion, and experienced combat from a different perspective.
During his time as an ALO, Blocher was responsible for being a forward
joint terminal attack controller, which had him coordinate close air
support from a ground position.
Having come face-to-face with a lethally different reality, Blocher's very existence took a drastic turn.
"It's a life-changing experience. It was something at the time I was not
fully prepared to handle," he said. "The proximity, the sights and
sounds were impactful."
In the present day, Blocher uses his experience to impart words of
wisdom to those at the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training course, the
world's only multi-nationally manned and managed flying training program
chartered to produce combat pilots for NATO.
The reason Blocher shares his story is so the other students can look at
the bigger whole of what it means to be an Airmen. During a 80th Flying
Training Wing commander's call, Col. Lance Bunch, 80th FTW commander
asked him to tell his tale. He had confidence his Airmen could learn
from his experience.
He spoke of his time in Iraq, and how he was confronted with decisions he never had to make in his career up until that point.
"I watched a man level an AK-47 at my head and I had to decide whether
he was going to die before me or if I was going to die before him," he
Having come so close to an enemy force face-to-face provided him with a
new appreciation for airpower from the ground viewpoint as the enemy
assaulted them with various types of weapons and explosives.
"The cool part was when our battalion sat there and waited and watched
while the Air Force wreaked havoc, and then (we) rolled north and never
took another shell," he said.
Blocher made sure to emphasize the importance of the overall Air Force
mission when it comes to educating new Airmen and pilots in particular.
"They are first of all focused on what is in front and not the big
picture, which is appropriate (for the training students), but every
once in a while, it's important to look at the horizon and realize why
you're here," he said.
For him, meeting the standard is not enough, it's the effort he looks
for as the defining aspect of these future pilot's careers.
"It's all the extra details we put into it that matters because we (Air Force) don't accept good enough," he said.
While Blocher described himself as being overwhelmed by the absoluteness
of combat, he characterizes his Air Force career as something that
strives off of acclimation and aptitude. Regardless of what challenges
the student's face, Blocher wants adaptability to be on their mind.
"I want young LT's to have a perspective on what it is to serve," he
said. "The quality of person we bring into the Air Force is someone who
can overcome challenges."
While operating as an ALO, Blocher attributes his personal belief in God
and country as to what kept him going in a war zone, and counts that
very same value system today as what continues to keep him pushing
forward out of passion for his job.
"I believe in what our country was founded on and I defend that," he
said. "If I'm going to defend, I'm going to defend it well."