Air Force heritage carried forward

  • Published
  • By Nicholas Harnack
  • 55th Wing Public Affiars

The Air Force is gilded with tradition despite its relatively short history when compared to the long tenure of its fellow branches in the Department of Defense. When we look at these traditions through the eyes of Airmen who serve, we sometimes see the footprints of the men and women who served before them.

For a small group of Airmen, they see the footprints of their mothers and fathers and decide they want to trace that same path. As for the 55th Wing, a select few have taken this vary path.

Capt. Patrick Thibodeaux, a second-generation navigator with the 338th Combat Training Squadron, began his Air Force career in 2016 by commissioning as an officer. He attended navigation school in Pensacola, Florida, and upon receiving his wings, scored his number one location on his dream sheet - Offutt Air Force Base.

He reported for duty at the 338th CTS schoolhouse where he was met with some familiar faces. Retired Lt. Col. Thomas Thibodeaux, Patrick’s father, and his fellow instructors, most of whom Patrick knew from when his father served, would be teaching him how to be a “mission navigator” on the RC-135 Rivet Joint, the workhorse of the 55th Wing and Air Combat Command.

“As a class of four NAVS it was hard to be the “grey-man” in the group and when a question was asked and no one had the answer, I was always the one to be called on,” Patrick said.

The structure of the training is a mix of coursework and hands-on time in a simulator where they would gain practical experience with the tools and systems of the trade.

“The job is different from when I was a NAV; we had two navigators on board and it was a great deal of manual navigation that took place. Now, it’s all automated with only one navigator.” said Thomas.

Navigators on the RC-135’s work with a whole suite of computer-based tools and GPS that help ascertain a more accurate positional awareness as well as monitor and avoid weather issues during flight.

Patrick went on to say that he has been able to connect at a deeper level with his father since his training and that they talk in depth about work, techniques and what he would do in specific situations. He has learned lessons that apply both in and outside of work, all thanks to the wealth of knowledge freely shared by his father.

After completing his mission training at the 338th CTS, Patrick was assigned to the 343rd Reconnaissance Squadron where he has spent two years on missions downrange. In 2021, he returned to the schoolhouse in the 338th CTS, this time as an instructor where he is currently working side by side with his father training the next generation of navigators for the Air Force.