CLOVIS, N.M. (KAMR/KCIT) — Continuing our trip to Cannon Air Force Base, it’s time to meet the men and women charged with the responsibility of looking after the newest aircraft to the base.
We already introduced you to the AC-130J Gunship, now meet the crew of this big, bad beast.
First up, “I always like to say, the airplane doesn’t know if you’re a male or female. It only cares if you’re a good pilot,” said First Lieutenant Madeline Mearsch. She’s an AC-130J Co-Pilot in the 17th SOS, from Orange County, California.
“I’m there to support the pilot with any decisions he or she may make, all of the shots that he’s calling, to backup the entire crew,” she said. “I kind of act like the last line of defense, making sure I’m backing everyone up with checklists, and flying the airplane of course.”
She chose this route because, “I wanted to give back to my country, I wanted to serve,” she said. “I feel like this country has given me so much, it’s given me so many opportunities, and I felt like it was time for me to pay it forward and return the favor.”
Next up, “being able to go through that training, and knowing the importance of helping the guys out on the ground,” said Joshua Valenciano, AC-130J Gunship Officer, in the 17th SOS. He was born and raised in San Antonio.
“Our primary job is the technical part of the mission. That’s weapon deployment of the mission, as well as actually talking to the ground party players for the mission and operation we’re conducting,” he said. “Navigating the aircraft in the mission area, and defensive maneuvers for aircraft.”
Why he chose to serve?
“I was in middle school really when I knew I wanted to join the military. Both of my grandfathers served in the military. Both in World War II,” he said. “One was a POW in the Butan Death March. Growing up post 9/11, seeing the different documentaries, the different things, I knew it was something I wanted to do.”
Stepping up, “I’m the primary individual that is responsible for everything that happens with this aircraft,” said Derek Fox, an Evaluator Pilot/Aircraft Commander in the 17th SOS.
He says he grew up a military brat, but grew up in different parts of Texas.
“Every decision that is made, I’m kind of the final focal point,” he said. “So, if anything that happens that’s bad or unsafe, it basically falls on me.”
He says the military called his name as a child.
“I knew at a young age I wanted to be a pilot. I just knew that military flying was a dream,” he said. “So, I’m one of those kids, who, I’m doing what i wanted to be when I grew up. I’m very lucky in that regard.”
And the guy who oversees all of this? You’ve met him in our previous stories.
“Those missions, that time spent, has created a strong and tight brotherhood amongst those partners,” said Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Saylor, Commander of the 17th SOS.
“When our team members go out in the field, they know that the AC-130J and the community is going to be there,” he said. “If they get in trouble, they’re going to be there to get them out of trouble.”
Cannon Air Force Base has some really cool toys and gadgets, and great crews. If you’re interested in joining, “find what you do, apply that to serving this country, and everything else will work itself out,” Commander Saylor said.