Making Offutt a family tradition in flight

  • Published
  • By David R. Hopper
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It's not uncommon to see one generation following the next into military service. It's not even uncommon to see one generation follow the next into a specific branch of the military. However, the Eldridge family took it a step further and made Offutt their family tradition.

The Eldridge family hasn't just had a father and son serve at Offutt. The third generation has arrived at Offutt and is looking to make his time with the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth just as vital to the country's mission as his predecessors while retaining his individuality.

"I volunteered to come [to Offutt]," said U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Joshua Eldridge, 338th Combat Training Squadron. "In my opinion, this is the best mission out there for a heavy pilot."

This enthusiasm displayed by Joshua about being at Offutt is echoed by his grandfather retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Golda T. Eldridge Sr. when he speaks about what he considers the most invaluable part of his experience while stationed here.

"One of the best things about [the 55th Wing] is the crew concept and the job you do," Eldridge Sr. said. "Everybody has to do their job to be able to get the mission done."

While the Eldridge family is unique in that this is the third generation to call Offutt home, that isn't the sole reason for the Eldridge family to stand out among their peers. All three generations are Air Force pilots and, when Joshua finishes his training, he will be flying the same aircraft as his father and grandfather.

"I had my first flight in the RC-135's in December 1967," Eldridge Sr. said. I deployed on [tail number] 849 on its first deployment. Twenty-four years later [Eldridge Jr.] deployed with the same airplane to the same place and now my grandson will soon be assigned to the same squadron flying the same aircraft."

Part of having multiple generations serve at the same base has its side effects like name recognition, which has its positive and negative aspects.

"I arrived at Offutt less than a year after [Eldridge Sr.] retired and I had the experience of being a brand new second lieutenant with colonels waving and saying hello," said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Golda T. Eldridge Jr., Joshua's father. "I was walking into a situation where I had some pretty big shoes to fill, but there was also a sense of family so it wasn't all intimidation."

Traditions run deep with the Eldridge family. They even found a way to make becoming a pilot part of the tradition.

"I got my wings in 1964, [Eldridge Jr.] got his wings in 1988 and they were the same wings I had," said Eldridge Sr. "In May, when [Joshua] graduated he had the same sterling-silver wings.

Joshua could look at a couple of facts from his history and argue that he was destined to be a pilot.

"I was born 23 years to the day when [Eldridge Sr.] graduated pilot training," Joshua said.

Joshua isn't the only one who noticed a trend growing in the family.

"I was born when [Eldridge Sr.] was in pilot training and [Joshua] was born when I was in pilot training," said Eldridge Jr.

For more than 40 years, the Eldridge family has transitioned in and out of Offutt and have witnessed a lot of changes over the years.

"[Offutt] has grown five times larger than when I was here," Eldridge Sr. said.

The change around Offutt witnessed by the Eldridge family isn't limited to just buildings.

"The technology surrounding the mission itself has progressed dramatically," Eldridge Jr. said. "We were on the beginning stages of some of this and were feeling our way through some of the issues that they have now overcome."

As far as living through changes in Offutt's fleet of aircraft, Eldridge Jr. has seen the most dramatic shift.

"I saw the airplane move forward dramatically in terms of the back-end equipment, new engines and we saw avionics in the front end modernized," Eldridge Jr. said. "When I arrived in 1988, the avionics I was flying were the same that [Eldridge Sr.] was flying in 1970, and by the early 1990's, they had started to upgrade the aircraft. The actual capabilities for the aircraft performance-wise improved dramatically over that time."

The draw for the Eldridge family to serve their country isn't limited to just this trio of flyers.  All in all, they have more than 120 years of military service in every branch except the Coast Guard.

Having traditions to pass along to the next generation is important and because Joshua recently got married and has a brother in navigation school, the proud tradition of making Team Offutt and the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth as a part of the Eldridge family tradition has a genuine possibility of continuing.

"[This] is a milestone," said retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Max Moore, who is a member of the 55th Wing Hall of Fame. "I have been associated with the 55th Wing since 1960, and while I know several sons of former [55th Wing members] have been in the wing, to my knowledge, this is a historic first with a third generation."

The mission at Offutt continues to remain vital to the nation. As Airmen continue to make the Fightin' Fifty-Fifth a milestone in their career, one can only hope that more families like the Eldridge family make Offutt a family tradition.