CORPUS CHRISTI – A 2013 Refugio High School graduate and Refugio, native is participating in a rigorous training process that transforms officers into U.S. naval aviators.
Ensign Buster Dodge is a student pilot with the “Stingrays” of Training Squadron (VT) 35, based in Naval Air Station Corpus, Christi. The squadron flies the T-44C Pegasus aircraft.
A Navy student pilot is responsible for learning how to effectively fly multi-million dollar naval aircraft under the “rules of the sky” and to command various operations and missions for the fleet.
“I love my job because I have the opportunity to visit places that I wouldn’t be able to on my own,” Dodge said. “I also enjoy the camaraderie that comes from being a part of a flight crew and squadron.”
Dodge credits success in the Navy to many of the lessons learned growing up in Refugio.
“I learned hard work is required in every field of work and is an essential part in progress throughout life,” Dodge said. “This trait has helped me succeed in being a pilot and naval officer.”
The T-44C Pegasus is a twin-engine, pressurized, fixed-wing monoplane used for advanced turboprop radar aircraft training using two 550 shaft horsepowered engines, with a cruising airspeed of 287 mph.
VT-35’s primary mission is to train future naval aviators to fly as well as instill leadership and officer values, Navy officials explained.
Students must complete four phases of flight training in order to graduate, including aviation pre-flight indoctrination, primary flight training, and advanced flight training.
After successfully completing the rigorous program, naval aviators earn their coveted “Wings of Gold.”
After graduation, pilots continue their training to learn how to fly a specific aircraft, such as the Navy’s P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft or Marine Corps’ MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft.
They are later assigned to a ship or land-based squadron.
A key element of the Navy the nation needs is tied to the fact that America is a maritime nation, and that the nation’s prosperity is tied to the ability to operate freely on the world’s oceans.
More than 70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by water; 80% of the world’s population lives close to a coast; and 90% of all global trade by volume travels by sea.
Dodge plays an important role in America’s focus on rebuilding military readiness, strengthening alliances and reforming business practices in support of National Defense Strategy.
“Our priorities center on people, capabilities and processes, and will be achieved by our focus on speed, value, results and partnerships,” said Secretary of the Navy Richard V. Spencer. “Readiness, lethality and modernization are the requirements driving these priorities.”
Though there are many ways for sailors to earn distinction in their command, community and career, Dodge is most proud of being selected to fly maritime aircraft.
“I like the mission of tracking enemy submarines and being able to fly highly advanced aircraft,” Dodge said.
Serving in the Navy is a continuing tradition of military service for Dodge, who has military ties with family members who have previously served. Dodge is honored to carry on the family tradition.
“My grandfather served as a military pilot during WWII, my dad was in the Navy as a radio technician on a P-3 aircraft and my mother served 20 years in the Navy as a religious program specialist,” Dodge said. “My sister went to the Naval Academy, and she was my influence to do the same. I saw how the Navy provides opportunities, and I wanted to utilize those to become a Navy pilot.”
As a member of one of the U.S. Navy’s most relied-upon assets, Dodge and other sailors know they are part of a legacy that will last beyond their lifetimes providing the Navy the nation needs.
“In some countries, it’s mandatory for people to serve in the military but for me, it was always a goal of mine to serve my country and to be a part of something bigger than myself,” Dodge said.