JP Hesford

F-18 Fighter Pilot & State Dept. Diplomat: Behind the Scenes of an American Success Story

Season  1Episode  562 MinutesDecember 13, 2023
Click to Watch Youtube Video

Prepare for an adrenaline-charged episode of Interesting Humans as Jeff Hopeck sits down with the remarkable JP Hesford, a retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, former F-18 pilot, and seasoned diplomat with the U.S. State Department.

Join us as JP takes us on a gripping journey through the highs and lows of his illustrious career. Hold onto your seats as he recounts heart-stopping moments, including a harrowing brush with fate as he narrowly dodged a mid-air collision with an F-16 during combat.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg!

JP’s tale is a tapestry woven with threads of courage, resilience, and unyielding determination. From his humble beginnings to soaring through the skies as a decorated pilot, JP’s journey is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the human soul.

So, tune in and buckle up for a rollercoaster ride of excitement and enlightenment as JP regales us with tales from the cockpit and beyond.

This is one episode you won’t want to miss – packed with thrills, spills, and invaluable insights from a truly extraordinary individual.


Key takeaways from JP:

  1. Read books. Stay curious. Staying curious will help in your professional and personal development.
  2. Do what you’re passionate about. Find your passion and follow it.

 


 

Tune in to hear more inspiring stories from fascinating individuals.

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Timestamps:

00:01: Car catching on fire story.
00:33: Podcast and Erik’s introduction.
01:08: An overview of Erik’s career.
03:04: Taking his career to Europe.
06:11: What it’s like in a race car.
07:50: Erik’s childhood experiences.
09:02: What is carting?
10:44: Adrenaline junkie and racing.
13:40: Coaching and mentorship.
15:00: Almost winning a national championship.
18:52: Mental toughness and training.
23:23: Mental toughness and focus.
26:17: Setting clear, concise goals.
30:41: Taking a year off racing.
33:29: Hyper car class in endurance racing.
38:26: Car catching on fire.
40:22: The physicality of racing.
43:09: Wearing diapers in races.


Introduction snippet:

JP:

So I roll inverted, point my nose straight at the ground, and from about 10,000 feet above him, I shoot a sidewinder simulated into this F-16 that my wingman is battling with. And I call, you know, kill F-16, left hand turn 12,000 feet. 

He says, got the kill, so he’s going to remove. As I pull the nose back up to the horizon and look up, I see an F-16 wingspan. The aircraft is filling my windscreen, you know, and it just shoots right over my head and it’s gone. 

You know, later on in the debrief, uh, we met up with the guys and I said, all right, I knew this kill call here. And I look up, somebody kind of flew by me. 

Did you see me there? And this guy’s like, Oh yeah, I had you. I had you. What do you mean? You had me, you know, you had me. Why did you almost hit me? 

Transcript:

Jeff:

Welcome to another episode of Interesting Humans. And today we’re interviewing J.P. Hesford. J.P., retired Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel, former F-18 pilot, and retired diplomat with the State Department. 

And folks, I assure you today is going to be one interesting episode. J.P., thanks so much for being here with us today. 

JP:
Hey, great to be here, Jeff. Thanks for having me. 

Jeff:

J.P., start off by giving us broad strokes of your entire career. 

JP:

Sure. In college, at some point in college, I realized I wanted to be a pilot. So I looked into that. A military pilot. Wound up with a good relationship with a Marine Corps recruiter. So I went in, did my normal officer training, then went to flight school. 

And then I ended up getting assigned to F-18s. So I was in F-18 squadrons for the next decade and did a lot of great flying. A number of deployments. So had a ton of fun with that. 

Everything I always wanted out of it. In the 20-year mark, I was ready to retire. So I said, all right, got to do something else next. And I had been exposed to the State Department and embassy life. 

So I went over and joined the Foreign Service with the State Department and did three embassy tours with them over 13 years. A couple of tours overseas back in the U S and then, uh, another tour overseas. 

So went to three amazing countries with the state department, uh, then retired out of that. And, um, now I am, I’ve got a small little LLC. I’m having fun with it, kicking around and I’m on a bit of a sabbatical and just, uh, enjoying life and enjoying some flexibility for a change. 

Jeff:

That’s awesome. Well, this is going to be such an incredible, um, interview. So thanks for being here. First off. Um, thanks for joining us. We, we do appreciate it. 

Let’s start off and just go back to childhood for you. Tell us some memories. What were things like in your family, siblings? 

JP:

Sure. Sure. Uh, I had a great childhood. I mean, we had, I had three sisters, so a family of six, uh, only boy in the family. We’re Irish Catholic. 

And, um, you know, we had typical and classic seventies, uh, growing up. Uh, you know, we were, uh, of modest means, I mean, middle class, but seventies, middle class, you know, everybody thinks they’re middle class nowadays, you know, and they have nice vacations and expensive cars. 

We were the old fashioned seventies, middle class, every vacation, was a station wagon and, you know, two in the way back, luggage on the roof rack, and you were driving to somebody’s, a relative’s house to stay there. But a tight-knit family, everybody got along. 

My parents are still married, both are still alive, gratefully. And so it was easygoing for the most part, you know, but, you know, every family’s complex in its own way. Uh, I, you know, it was, it was a nice entree. 

I was well set up to come into the world and, you know, good head on my shoulders. And I think, uh, you know, I was just set up for success. 

Jeff:

Yeah. Military and your background, uh, your family’s background. 

JP:

I mean, Yeah, quite a bit. And I’ll walk through a little bit of it, but yeah, my father was, uh, he went to West Point, he graduated in 1960 and, uh, he wound up in special forces. So he did a tour as a Green Beret in Vietnam. 

So, um, you know, that shaped him a lot and obviously shaped me a lot. Um, but, uh, so, and then his father as well had gone to the Coast Guard Academy, uh, and graduated, I think in 32, you know, way back when, um, and he was a Naval aviator. I think he was the 28th Coast Guard aviator. 

So only 27 before him, you know, naval aviation in its infancy. Sure. Um, and then his father, my great grandfather was a career Navy officer. Uh, so, uh, that makes me a fourth generation career military officer. And it was a logical and natural fit for me to head in that direction. 

Although I didn’t know I was going to do it until pretty late in the game. 

Jeff:

Sure. Okay. Let’s, let’s progress a little bit. Let’s go into grade school years, high school years. 

JP:

Yeah. Uh, you know, I was just a regular old kid, you know, the seventies was, uh, was a ton of fun time to grow up. Uh, the parenting style back then, when we now call it benevolent neglect, because, uh, you know, they weren’t, uh, there was nothing wrong with our parents, but they, they weren’t helicoptering by any sense of the word is, you know, as we all tend to do today, me included. Um, but you just had the run of the place. 

You know, we grew up in suburban Washington, DC and Fairfax County, Virginia. Um, and you probably remember, or people my age remember, you know, you got off the bus, even in second grade, you maybe went by the house to drop off a book and, you know, have a quick snack and your mom’s only, you know, all she said was be home for dinner. 

Right. So you might have, you know, four and a half, five hours to, well, you know, we were riding bikes, riding skateboards, going in the woods, going to people’s houses and you know, they didn’t, they didn’t feel the need to keep track. 

Jeff:

Sure. 

JP:

You know, we always showed up and if you were late, maybe you got held at, but otherwise easy going. Good relationship with your, with your siblings. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Um, you know, we were, I mean, everybody, you know, the little, you know, cats and dogs fighting like cats and dogs inside the house, but, uh, none of the, yeah, nothing. 

We’re all, you know, we came out of it unscathed. Um, we’re all still tight with each other for the most part. You know, we see each other at least a couple of times a year or so. Right. Yeah. And I think, you know, I kind of glossing over it, but, um, like I said, I feel, you know, it benefited me a lot. Uh, it’s, it’s, it’s nice to have that. 

And I think it really shaped who I became and it, that’s where you get your values, your beliefs, and that really shapes your character. 

Jeff:

Sure. Okay. So somewhere in your life, you’ve, you found a passion for books to the point where I think you’ve, you’ve read over 1500 books. Is that sort of here? Did it start at this point in your life? Grade school? 

JP:

I guess it probably did. I mean, I remember my, my mom was a big reader and uh, I think more importantly, she, she sort of talk about the books she reading. Um, you know, uh, not every single one and not at great length, but it was sort of, you know, it was made aware that she really enjoyed reading and she wanted us to read. 

We always had books in the house, you know, for Christmas you were going to get whatever toys you asked for, but at least a couple of books to go with it. And I remember, um, uh, I read the great brain series. I don’t even know if, you know, it’s probably been out of print or nobody reads it now, but, uh, it was a little bit like the Harry Potter of our day. 

Um, so I remember going through that and probably fifth and sixth grade. And I think I, it was a little bit of a light bulb, like, wow, you know, books can actually be interesting and fun. Um, so that may have been the start of it. Um, and, and yeah, it’s, you know, I was also an English major in college. Um, so it’s just sort of a habit I developed early and honestly, you know, probably my best habit. 

Jeff:

Yeah. Which is, and I can’t wait to unpack that cause I think it’s intriguing where, you go English major Marine Corps flying like it’s just it’s gonna be exciting to get into so alright let’s move into how’d you decide on what college you were gonna go to where’d you go what did that all look yeah?

JP:

Uh, you know, I think I just, uh, I was a pretty good student. You know, I had, uh, I had four years of Latin. Um, it was nice to have that continuity and it’s really a neat language. Um, it also is, is great for anything you’re going to do in life regarding English language or even foreign languages, uh, which did come into play later. 

We can talk about, but, um, I was looking at, you know, all right, what’s the best school I can get into? Um, and I wound up looking at two, uh, Washington and Lee, which is a very small, uh, private school in Virginia. Uh, did a campus tour there. It was rainy. Um, you know, it was like, Oh, okay. 

That was a nice enough school. Uh, my dad was with me the next day. We drove down to wake forest and, uh, Winston Salem, North Carolina. sun came out, it was April. Uh, there was some kind of, you know, field activity carnival that day. Uh, you know, everybody’s out, lots of, lots of codes running around having fun. 

And I was like, uh, okay, I think, I think we’re good. I think this is going to be it. So that’s where I wound up. I love it. 

Jeff:

And to this point, so you’re getting ready, you’re preparing for college was fighting or sorry, was flying in your blood right now. Did you know you were going that way? 

JP:

Now, you know, I didn’t at all. I will say, you know, I kind of I talked about the military, my family, I didn’t mention my dad’s brother. So my uncle, he was an Air Force pilot, and he graduated from the Air Force Academy 1965, which I believe is the fifth graduating class, you know, very young. early Air Force Academy days. 

So he flew F-4s, F-4 Phantom, classic fighter in Vietnam. Sadly, he was shot down in Vietnam and declared MIA. So they did not recover. They didn’t see any shoots. They didn’t have any indication that anybody was alive, but they didn’t confirm dead. 

So he was MIA. And I mean, I remember that as a child, we had the bracelets, you know, this was, would have been 1970 or so. I mean, he was shot down in 68. Um, so, uh, and he was not recovering. 

He was declared KIA, I think after a 10 year period, but you know, that was, uh, he was somebody that, that I sort of in a way admired or looked up to. I mean, they didn’t know him. I never met him. Or if I did, I was an infant. Um, but that was maybe, maybe lean towards aviation. 

Jeff:

Okay. So you, so you unpack your bags, you’re at wake forest, here you go. Uh, four years there. When did, when did you make the decision to, um, to, to go Marine Corps? 

JP:

So I was, it was my sophomore year. I started thinking, okay, you know, it, it kind of hits you. Well, I’m not going to be in college forever. Am I, you know, this is going to come to an end and I’ll have to do something. 

And I think some of my friends were talking about, you know, getting into banking, they were majoring in business or something. And I wondered, well, what am I going to do? Uh, and I had always known that the military was an option available to me, uh, going as an officer. Um, and when I thought about it, I said, well, I’ve never really, wanted to take that up. 

But if I could, if I could throw the flying part in there, that’s suddenly sound a lot more interesting. Right. So I got in touch with the Navy recruiter. He put me through, I did the, the, the pilot aptitude test. And then he put me through the, um, the DoD physical, which is, you know, lengthy and exhaustive. Um, and that was, that was, uh, in 1986, uh, he said, all right.

And he said, who are you? I’m like, you know, me, the guy. He’s like, yeah, I got, I got 200 applications in 20 slots. He’s like, let’s try for next fall. Uh, so I was sort of devastated. You know, I’m like, you kidding me? 

And my buddy said, Hey, you got to talk to my Marine recruiter. He squared away. So I did. And on the spot, he’s like, you know, you’ve already had the test. You’ve already had the physical. 

Come to my office next Wednesday. I’ll sign you up. I’ll get you in, you know, next summer, you’re going to, you’re going to officer candidate school. And I was like, okay. I mean, I kind of wanted to fly, but the Marines, you know, I’m not crazy. 

So I called my dad. Yeah, I remember I called my dad, I’m like, Okay, here’s what’s going on. The Navy’s not looking so good. But the Marines say they’ll take me. I mean, you know, the Marines dad, what do you think? You know, I asked the Green Beret, right? 

He’s like, Oh yeah, no big deal. Go for it. No, yeah, no big deal. You’ll love it. Go for it. You know, and I mean, it wasn’t so much that he didn’t, it didn’t take him a half second to think, oh yeah, that’s just nothing, you know, have at it. Right. Um, so I said, all right, well, here we go. 

And it turned out, yeah, it turned out perfect. It was a great fit. And, uh, you know, I, I wouldn’t change a thing. 

Jeff:

That’s incredible. All right. So you’re, you’re in the Marines, you’re station where? 

JP:

Uh, so I started, uh, well, I went to officer candidate school between my junior and senior year in college. So that’s summer. Uh, I went home for about three or four weeks, you know, did a bunch of running, you know, tried to get in, I was already in okay shape, you know, try and tighten it up a little bit and then hit, you head down to officer candidate school. 

I did a 10 week combined course, um, So for 10 weeks over that summer, and that’s the officer’s version of boot camp that you would see on, you know, full metal jacket and all the movies, you’re getting the full Marine Corps treatment.

Jeff:

So you do that first, and then came back to to Wake Forest?

JP:

I finished my senior year, graduated, and then went in as a second lieutenant to Quantico, Virginia. 

Jeff:

Okay. To Quantico. You’re there, you’re training. Are you loving it? Are you liking it? Are you like, what did I do? 

JP:

I’m getting, I’m getting through it. Well, you know, I had, I had seen, you know, the, the toughest they had to offer at, at officer candidate school. So, uh, that was behind me, you know, now there’s, there’s no shouting or there’s, there’s less shouting. 

Um, but it’s all, it’s, it’s, so the Marines motto is every Marine a rifleman and in the, in the pecking order in the Marine Corps, you know, I’m, I’m an F 18 pilot. 

I’ve got the cool $35 million jet. Yeah. Everybody’s subservient to the Marine infantry crop. 

Jeff:

Wow. Everybody. 

JP:

Uh, every mission, everything we do is to make sure that they are as good as they can possibly be. And as, as, as you know, that they can win every battle decisively. So, so you go in for your initial training is called the basic school. 

And regardless of whether you’re going to be a motor T officer, a data officer, a pilot, everybody goes through and gets a taste for what the grunts are going to endure. 

So you’re, you do land navigation, you do night land navigation, you do platoon infantry in the attack. ambush assaults, all these things. Um, and then you learn all the other sort of basic, some, some UCMJ military law, you know, customs and history, all those things. So that’s a six month course. 

But to be true, you know, to be honest with you, you know, you’re marching through the woods in Quantico, Virginia in the daytime, it’s 90 and you’re miserable at nighttime. There’s mosquitoes, you know, so it is, I was, I was happy to, to get through it and put it behind me. 

Jeff:

What happens next? Where is flight school? Is that a month away, a year away? When do you apply? Walk us through all that. 

JP:

Yeah. So, uh, as I had, I had signed an aviation contract with my recruiters. So when I went into the Marine Corps and when I showed up at the basic school, uh, the pilots, the majority of the pilots, there was no question about what we were going to do and where we were going to end up.

And for everybody else, there kind of is, you know, they’ll decide when they get there, where they’re going to wind up. Um, so as soon as, uh, the basic school ended, uh, I had orders for flight school and there was a little delay in there. 

Um, but you know, that was fine. I, I had to kill a little time. Um, but then I ended up down heading down to Pensacola, Florida, uh, for basic aviation training and it’s Naval aviation. So it’s Air Force, Navy and Coast Guard altogether. Um, and I headed down to Pensacola and you know, white sand beaches, you know, turquoise waters, you know, warm down there. 

Uh, and I showed up there, met up with a couple of buddies and yeah, it was like, okay, I, uh, I’ve arrived, I’ve arrived at the right place. This is where I wanted to be. 

Jeff:

So you, you get, it’s a base, you, you, you get on for the very first time. What does that feel like? You’re in your car, you just get through the gate. 

JP:

Yeah. I mean, it feels great. You know, Pensacola’s got neat architecture, because it’s all like, you know, I mean, I was on the base where my grandfather went, you know, I mean, literally, I probably walked into the same administration building that he did, you know, and checked in with my orders, you get a room at the BOQ. 

And occasionally, you know, the airfield’s a little ways away, but you’ll see some jets going over and, and, you know, you see the people you just, you’re, I’ve gone from, you know, the woods of Quantico where everybody’s Marine, Marine, Marine into an aviation environment. 

And it was, yeah, it was a long time coming. I mean, I’d been thinking about it by then for a couple of years. So it was just great to be there and I was ready to, to, to have a crack at it. 

Jeff:

Wow. Very first day you sit in a class. What, what was it about? 

JP:

You know they start you off with with ground school so you know before you even touch an airplane you get I think it’s probably five or six weeks and you take some. Aerodynamics classes in meteorology and I think there’s some stuff on engines and propulsion. 

Okay. Because they want to make sure you know they didn’t nobody came in that can’t read a book so. Frankly, you know, if you’ve gotten a college degree, it’s not particularly hard. But the the challenge is to stay away from the beach and the bars and keep your nose in the books at least enough so that you come through it. 

Jeff:

Sure. And how long how long is Pensacola? 

JP:

So I was there for a year. And after the, uh, after that initial ground school, you go into your first trainer aircraft, which is a T 34. It’s a little single engine turbo prop. So it’s, uh, you know, it’s nicer than a Cessna could do about 190, 200 knots, which is, which is decent. 

And, uh, it was fully aerobatic. So you get, you get the basic flying, some instrument flying. Um, and you, that’s when you get your first solo as well. Your 13th flight I think is a solo flight. 

Jeff:

Okay. And what is that like? That’s what I want to ask is get a, get us in the seat that very first day. 

JP:

Yeah. your first flight, uh, you’re, you feel like you’re ready and you know, you’ve, you’ve, you do advanced, you know, you some, a lot of read heads to make sure you understand, you know, even a little simple aircraft like the T 34. I mean, it had, you know, 150 switches, knobs, buttons, and dials. So you need to know what each and every one does. 

You’ll only touch a couple dozen during a flight, but, um, So, by the time you go out for that first flight, your instructor is right behind you, you’re in the front seat, and it’s a little bit surreal, and you kind of do everything you’ve talked about, and it’s pretty straightforward, and you get airborne, and there’s not a lot of expectations on flight number one. 

Jeff:

Right. 

JP:

Um, but it does feel good. And you’re looking at the ground for the first time from, you know, up there just to two or 3000 feet. But you are at some level thinking, you know, all right, this is it. It’s happening. This is the start. Here we go. 

Jeff:

So then you, okay. Then you get, you leave Pensacola and where does your career take you next? 

JP:

So out of Pensacola, uh, everybody, um, is each flight is graded and it’s all goes into your, you know, sort of your master file and they’re keeping track of, you know, they, of, of how you’re doing throughout that syllabus. 

Uh, and like I said, the whole time in Pensacola was about a year, I guess that’s probably nine months in the aircraft. Um, and you do, I think probably 75 flights. You also do about equal number of simulators that are graded as well. 

Jeff:

Okay. Uh, So the, at the end of that, they’re like, okay, you’re done with primary. Uh, what do you want to do next? 

JP:

So for Marines, it was, you can select, uh, uh, helicopters, transport aircraft or jets. So I put down, I want to fly jets. And so then they, they do a bit of a rack and stack and they say, all right, well, we got 12 jet slots. We got 35 guys, you know, and, and some people are, all I want to do is fly a helicopter. 

So, you know, they’re out. Yeah. Um, but generally speaking, if you wanted to fly jets, you better come out with some decent marks. And fortunately I did. So I did get selected for jet training and it was off to Beville, Texas. 

Jeff:

Okay. What, when you said decent marks academics, I’m assuming, right? Or is it a holistic? 

JP:

It’s, it’s actually, it’s, it’s every simulator and every flight. So on a given flight as a student, you would go out and, you know, on your first flight, you’re going to get graded for basic airmanship and your turns and maintaining a steady and level aircraft and simple stuff. 

And then later on down the road, you know, you’re flying, um, formation flying. So you go out with another aircraft, you know, an instructor, uh, and you’ll fly off his wing and then you’ll even get to do aerobatics information. 

So now you’re doing a loop, uh, and you just fly and off your instructor’s wing, the two, you do the loop together at the same time. Um, so every one of those flights in every simulator is gets about, you know, between 15 and, and, uh, or about 15 grades on it, you know, check, did it, and you can get. 

A check to the left means below average, so we called it a below. A check to the right is above average. At the end of the syllabus, you wanted to have at least about 75, 70 net aboves. 

So you had, you know, 75 anyway. Um, so those were your marks. Yeah. And, uh, if you were competing for a slot, like I said, if you wanted helicopters, it was sort of, you could kind of go straight into that. 

Um, and that’s not to malign helicopter pilots. I mean, you know, but, um, it was the jets. If you want to fly jets, usually a lot of people did. So it just came down to, you know, who had, who had the best marks. It’s also a function of how many are available that month. Uh, in one month they might have a dozen next month.

They might only have five. So timing, you got to be a little bit lucky on the time. 

Jeff:

Right. So you go, you’re off to Texas now. 

JP:

Yeah. So, uh, off to Texas and, uh, Beville, Texas, middle of nowhere, which is actually maybe not a bad thing because, uh, it was just great. It was, it’s halfway between Corpus Christi and San Antonio. Uh, and there is nothing there, but a big old, you know, two intersecting runways called NASB ville. 

Yeah. Um, And I went into the T, sorry, the, the T2, which is a basic or intermediate level jet trainer. And it’s a nice stable jet, but quickly you go from, you know, the prop plane I was flying could get up to about 200 knots. Uh, even a basic jet, you’re, you’re over 400 on day one. 

Um, and so you do an entire syllabus there, which is about six months. And then we moved over into the TA4, uh, another trainer, the advanced trainer. And that’s basically the, uh, uh, the training version of an A4, which flew in Vietnam. And that was actually John McCain’s plane. Um, So that’s a great little jet. It’s really narrow, it’s not big, and it was known for the roll rate. 

You could do an aileron roll, so, you know, it’s hard to talk through. If you know what an aileron roll is, you know, you turn upside down and then keep going so you’re right side up. It could do an aileron roll in about a second and a half, really fast roll rate. And that, you know, you would get that jet up above 500 knots. 

So you do both those jets over the course of a year, you do the one, and then you transition into the advanced, uh, and you take both of those to the aircraft carrier. Uh, and that’s your first experience, uh, you know, landed on a carrier. 

Um, so that was, you know, we, that was, that was, uh, a really marquee event in every Naval aviators life. 

Jeff:

All right. So you have two big events. Now you’ve, you’ve got landing on the carrier, which is incredible. I can’t wait to hear that. And then taking off. 

Was your first carrier experience landing on one? So did you fly from land to a carrier or did you start? Did you take off from a carrier? 

JP:

No, you, uh, you, well, first of all, you, um, as you’re getting ready, you know, you move through the syllabus and the carrier qualification comes towards the end. So, uh, you will do about three or four weeks of just practicing for the carrier. Uh, there’s no distractions. 

They get you in, in the landing signals officers, LSOs. Uh, those are the, Uh, the, the guys are going to, they’re going to talk you down onto the boat and they’re the ones that are in charge of training you. 

And then at the boat, they stand on the end of the boat and they’re watching each and every pass, uh, and they’re ready to jump in and say, wave off, or, you know, they’re there to ensure you can safely do it. 

So, uh, four or five weeks of training with those exclusively just to practice your carrier landing to do about. you know, a flight a day in each flight, you probably get in 14, 15 practice landings on the field, on the airfield. Um, and then, you know, when they say you’re ready, everybody’s, everybody’s good to go. 

And, and next week the boat’s going to be out in the Gulf of Mexico. Um, so it’s a bit of, you know, it’s a big timing dance. Like when’s the boat ready for you? When are you ready? 

So you kind of show up in the morning and sit around, sit around and then they say, all right, you know, you four come with me. Uh, and you brief it up and you’re heading out to the Gulf of Mexico and there’s a tiny little, uh, uh, aircraft carrier down there waiting for you. 

Jeff:

All right. You got to get us in the seat of your first one. 

JP:

Okay. So, um, you know, you feel perfectly confident. I mean, they’ve been doing this for decades and decades and decades. You know, it’s, it’s, uh, it’s dangerous, but not when they do it properly. 

So I felt great about it. We all did. Um, and you go out and instructor takes you out and there’s three of us on his wing, you know, but he’s solo. It’s funny. Cause you’re like, my first thought was like, Oh, you do your first carrier landing solo. And the answer is yeah. 

No instructors get in the back seat of your plane for your first landing. I mean, they’re brave, but they’re not stupid. Uh, so you, you go out and, uh, I remember, you know, you’re flying, you know, you kind of paying attention to your, to your flight lead and You know, you’re looking around a little bit and I remember our flight lead said, okay, boys, take a look down below. 

And I saw the carrier for the first time and it’s a bit of a gut punch, you know, it’s like, okay, they weren’t kidding. This is for real. So, um, so they bring you into the pattern and, uh, you know, your, your turn comes up and you get up behind the boat and you just do what you’ve been doing for the past. 

Uh, you know, all those training flights, all those practice landings, uh, and you know, you try and relax, but you just stay focused. And by the time you make it down there, you just hit the, you hit the deck and, uh, and it’s a bit of a shock, you know, and the, and the hook grabs it and it’s a bit of a controlled crash. 

Right. And you sort of snap out of it and you’re looking around and you’re, you’re sitting on it on an aircraft. 

Jeff:

Oh my goodness. That’s incredible. All right. So you land on the carrier. You’re there. Do you get out? Do they spin you around for takeoff or would you get out? What do you do? 

JP:

Yeah, no, they just, uh, you know, once you’re on the carrier, you belong to the, uh, to the young enlisted guys and gals that are, that are down there and, and, you know, the throttle back to idle, uh, you should get on the brakes. They unhook you from the cable that your, uh, tail hook has just grabbed. And then you’re at their mercy. 

They start waving their wands and saying, go that way, go that way, go this way. And they direct you around, but yeah, they just, they take you from sort of the middle of the ship back to the, uh, the stern and then line you up on the catapult. 

Uh, and you line up there, uh, you, you, you get set, you do your checks. They look around, do their checks. And when they’re ready, they give you a thumbs up, you salute. And then, uh, they launch you off. 

Jeff:

What’s your call sign? 

JP:

Uh, Chile, my call signs, Chile. 

Jeff:

How did you get it? 

JP:

I got it. Luckily, you know, I, I would say, I wish there was a good story, but actually I don’t care that there’s not a story because Uh, my roommate just started calling me chili and I was like, that sounds like a pretty good goal sign to me. 

But, uh, I was just happy to have it because you know, if there’s some bad call signs out there and I give you an example, I literally have a friend and for the first year I knew him, I didn’t even know his first name, but because everybody just uses call signs, you know, uh, exclusively, that’s how we talk to each other the whole time. 

And I had a friend, honest to God, his call sign was dog balls and, That was it. And there’s nothing he can do. You can’t change it. You can’t complain. 

And in fact, if you complain, you just sealed it in, in granite. I mean, now it’s really not good. So when I got chilly, I’m like, man, I can live with that. 

Thankfully it never got changed. So it stuck with me for my career. 

Jeff:

That’s awesome. So cool. All right. So they spin you around, you’re ready for takeoff. How, how long, what you’re there from a minute to do the whole thing, the whole spin around a couple minutes, five minutes? 

JP:

It can, it can depend. I mean, they sort of put you off to the side. Um, you know, you may or may not need fuel and they can just gas you up right there. While you’re sitting there, you’re watching some of your buddies land and you get a great view of it, you know, and it’s also the first time you’ve seen this cause I hadn’t been on a carrier before. 

So. You know, I’m sitting off to the side of the back end and seeing my buddies come down and grab wires. And it’s just, it’s amazing. And it’s fun. 

And I’m thinking, you know, this is so cool. And then, you know, eventually they’re like, all right, come this way. And they text you out. Um, and you get put in position and then launched off the front end and off the front. 

Jeff:

All right. Walk us through that. So you’re, you’re set up, you’re getting ready to salute. How many seconds until you’re up in the air? 

JP:

So that’s interesting because, uh, Yeah, you know, they put you into the catapult and you’re sort of locked in there. And then they say, you’re good to go. And you put your engines to full thrust, and then you do a wipe out of the controls just to make sure, you know, your sticks not jammed or something. 

And you look in your internal gauges, make sure your engines look good. And then you look over and you give the salute saying, I’m ready. And then you put your hands down like, or take up position. And then the person that’s launching you, uh, the person that’s next to your plane, who just saluted, he actually doesn’t control anything. 

So he has to signal somebody sort of across the deck and he says, okay, launch them. And then that guy has to look and make sure everybody’s clear. And then he pushes the big go button. So by the time you salute and then put your hands down and you’re thinking, here we go, it’s between one and two or two and a half seconds. 

And you don’t know when it’s coming. Um, and then it just pops and you go zero to one 50 in about 1.2 or three seconds. Oh my goodness. And it’s, um, yeah, it, uh, you know, it’s, it’s a great feeling cause it’s so much. pressure and force. I mean you get pinned to the back of your seat. Um, they say, uh, your vision gets just a little blurry on the way down the cat shot because your eyes, your eyeballs actually compress a little, you know, like a, the force squeezes the eye and it’s like, you know, you don’t black out. 

I mean you can see perfectly well, but you know, they say your vision, if it’s 2020 it goes to 2040 for that little cat stroke. That’s incredible. Yeah. But, you know, as you as you head down there, it’s pretty loud, it’s pretty violent, you know, you’re moving fast, you’re accelerating like crazy, it’s noisy. 

And then it shoots off the front and it’s just quiet. And you have a lot of gray and steel around you on the carrier and you get right off the front end and it’s nothing but blue sky up there. And everything’s quiet and you just ease back on the stick and you’re offline. 

Jeff:

Oh, that’s incredible. Alright, so to summarize that entire Do you have an absolute favorite story out of all of them? Flight school? 

JP:

Yeah. Flight school. Let me think. Yeah. Let me think. You know, flight school is, um, on the one hand, you know, it’s cool. You’re flying planes and then you’re flying jets and you know, you’re, um, you know, the one story I have, I think might be, uh, you know, Uh, the first time, 90% of all your flights, in fact, probably more, have you, you, you, you’re at an airfield, you know, NAS Beville for me, and you take off from Beville and then you landed Beville and you’re like, okay, that was a good flight and everything’s set. 

And at some point they said, we got to do a cross country in here just to see, you know, to get that experience, airways navigation. Um, so I did that with an instructor and we were going to fly from, you know, from Texas to I think Colorado. 

So I planned it all out and you know, you’re going to fly air routes and you have to file a flight plan and you’re going to go up to like, you know, 30,000 feet. You do all that. 

So the day I did it, uh, we got airborne and within about a minute we went into the clouds and then, you know, it was cloudy and per 10,000 feet and then we broke out on top. So I could see clouds below me and I’m in clear air, but I can’t see any ground. And I actually stayed that way all the way to Colorado. 

I hadn’t seen the ground in over an hour. Um, so then you’re going to shoot your approach and come into the airfield in Colorado. So, you know, you start descending and they talk you into it and then you shoot this actual instrument approach, which you’ve been trained to do. 

And that’s the purpose of this flight is to make sure you can do it outside of your own airfield. You know, I hadn’t seen the ground in an hour and as I was coming down, I’m like, is it really going to be there? 

You know, I mean, it’s supposed to be, I guess it’s going to be, but, And sure enough, we break out of the clouds, and I can see the ground below me. It’s not very far below me. We’re only at 800 feet. And right up in front of me, this just big, giant runway emerges right where it should be, right in front of my aircraft. 

And I just came in and did a nice, easy landing. And it’s like, damn, it all works. So that was kind of neat. 

Jeff:

That’s fascinating. All right. In this era, what’s a routine look like day to day? 

JP:

Yeah, I mean, honestly, it’s, um, it’s pretty stressful. Uh, like I said, you have, you have, uh, a flight and or simulator almost every day of the week, every single one of them is graded.

Um, and you know, I felt good about it. We all did. We’re good, confident, young pilots. But every one of them, you know, can be like a failure, you know, you can get, it’s called getting a down. And if you get a down, that means, you know, that flight just was not satisfactory. 

You’re going to have to do the flight again. You’re probably going to have to do a couple, you know, makeup hops for it. Um, and it’s, And so you want to avoid that at all costs. Plus, we’re all developing these big macho pilot egos. So nobody wanted to have that happen. 

So over the course of three years of flight school, it is stressful. And on the good days, you feel like a king because you flew well. The instructor’s like, yeah, you’re doing great. you know, and on your not so great days, you can really, you know, can, it can get you down a little bit. 

So, um, and everybody has, you know, their ups and downs, but, um, I think just by the end of the three years of flight school, and that’s, that’s when you actually get your wings. Cause up until then, you’re, you’re always a student pilot, you know, through basic intermediate and advanced. 

And when you finish the advanced syllabus in the a four, uh, you get your wings and you have a winging ceremony and now you’re, you’re no longer a student, you’re an actual naval aviator. And, um, So, so when that day came, it felt like, oh, thank God it’s over. You know, at some level it was like, that was all fun and neat and gee whiz, but it was two things happened there that were just great for me. 

You know, one, when I got winged, I got to pin on my grandfather’s wings and those are the ones that he was pinned on as a, as a young Coast Guard ensign, you know, however, 60, 70 years before. So that meant a lot to me. 

Um, and I also, you know, had said within the, with the, for jet pilots in the Marine Corps at that time, you could fly the Harrier, the F-18 or the Prowler, which is an electronic warfare plane, basically a jammer. So I had really wanted to fly the Hornet. That was, you know, that’s the poster I had on my wall. That was always the goal. 

And, uh, some point after winging, uh, they said, okay, uh, we’ve got your assignments. Everybody get over here, dah, dah, dah. And, um, they said, you’re going to fly F 18s. You’re going to El Toro, California, which is orange County. Yeah. And I mean, I was like, you know, I, I, I tried to play it off. 

Okay, great. Oh, super. All right. Thanks. Yeah. You know, and once I got out of your shot, I jumped in my truck, I’m driving home and I was hooping and hollering. Yeah. Yeah, that was five years in the making. So it felt great. 

You know, from there in Texas, I went out to El Toro and it’s, it’s, you get a, you get about a year of training in the F-18. So now you got to learn that airplane. So you’re not a student, well, you’re a student, but you’re a winged student. 

So there’s a little bit of a difference. It wasn’t quite so stressful. Everybody’s a little bit more on your side, you know? Uh, they’re not trying to weed you out. They’re trying to get you ready for fleet life. 

So that was a year of that was a great experience. Then I went into an actual squadron. So now you are, you know, uh, the basic level of combat ready and you get assigned to a fleet gun squadron, uh, that is deployable worldwide at a moment’s notice. 

And, um, uh, it’s fantastic, you know, and this, now you’re, you’re joining the team, you know, they’re, everybody is, there’s, you’re, it’s a lot of camaraderie. Um, you know, you’re flying with some other young people, some intermediate pilots, and then some really experienced ones all, you know, in the squadron is about 20, 22 pilots. 

Um, So I went over to, uh, the Vikings was my first assigned squadron. I got there in January and we were going to Japan on deployment in March for a six month deployment. So I just two months to sort of get acclimated and get used to flying in a fleet squadron rather than a training squadron. Uh, and which was fine. 

And then, uh, off we went, you know, we went over to Japan from, from California. 

Jeff:

What was actually going on in that part of the country at the time? What year, what year was it? 

JP:

So that was 1993. And, uh, you know, there was nothing specific going on. Um, we were, we were just over there as sort of, there’s, there’s, uh, some all four services have, have, uh, permanent forces stationed over in Korea, Japan, Philippines, you know, are sort of our, our Asia group that’s over there. 

So we were just joining that, uh, on a temporary basis and we rotated one squadron for the other. So one of our sister squadrons at California. Uh, they had been there six months. We showed up, they left, you know, we stayed and we were replaced. So it’s, it’s a unit deployment, unit rotation program. 

And, um, uh, so it was sort of the same thing we’d been doing in California, but we just did it in Asia and we got a chance, you know, we flew, uh, down to, we flew over to Korea a good bit and train with the air force over there. We’d fly down to Okinawa and train with the air force there. 

Um, So it’s, it’s a neat experience just to get to fly around in a different part of the world. Sure. You know, you’re also available for contingency. So if something did happen and you know, they needed forces from that part of the world, we could well have been assigned to it. 

Jeff:

So you, okay. We got a lot of years ahead of us and you’ve done some remarkable stuff. So from Japan, then you’re off to where? 

JP:

Uh, so, uh, I stayed with that squadron, uh, for four years and I went Japan, California, back to Japan, back to California, back to Japan a third time. So each of those Japans was a six months. So I did three six month deployments with that squadron. Um, and then that took me to about four years in the squadron, which is a long enough time. 

Uh, so, uh, when, when it was time to get out of there, I was lucky and snagged a slot as a F 18 instructor pilot. Hmm. So I went back to my old squadron and I was an instructor bringing in, you know, the newly winged and getting those guys ready for the fleet. 

So it was more flight time. It was more F-18 times. It was a plum assignment. You know, I was happy to have it. You finish out your career then as an aviator, um, doing instruction? Or no other. Okay. Yeah, there was other. 

So I did, I was in search of all for about three and a half years. Then I got assigned to another squadron there in California. By then we’d moved down. Uh, and if you want to know how bad I had it, uh, while I was an instructor, I lived in Laguna beach. Um, and. 

When they moved our bases, we took over Miramar from the Navy down in San Diego. So I gave up my rental unit in Laguna Beach, and I moved to La Jolla, California. 

Jeff:

Oh, my goodness. And got another rental unit down there. And Miramar’s the famous top gun location, right? 

JP:

Yeah, exactly. And that was a Naval Air Station. And I don’t know how, I don’t know who we bribed, but it became a Marine Corps Air Station in about 99. 

Jeff:

Still today? Is it still today? 

JP:

It still is today, yeah. Yeah, that’s our master jet base on the West Coast. That’s incredible. Yeah, so I moved from Laguna to La Jolla, got assigned to a different squadron. And then that was it would have been in the year 2000. And we went over to do we went over to the Gulf, and we we deployed to Kuwait to do the southern no fly zone missions in Iraq. 

So Uh, that was about four months and we went to Al Jaber airfield in Kuwait and then we were flying in Iraq every day and that was technically considered combat. I mean, you know, the, the Iraq war, the first one was long since over, but we had restrictions on, on what the Iraqis could and couldn’t do. 

So we were running a Southern no fly zone and a Northern no fly zone. And, uh, we were patrolling the South, you know, they weren’t allowed to bring aircraft in there and they weren’t allowed to put, you know, certain, Uh, military equipment below whatever, I think the 32nd parallel, don’t quote me on that. 

Um, so we were doing missions in Iraq every day and then on the bad days, you know, if they did some stuff that we didn’t like, we’d get the word from headquarters in Saudi Arabia and Riyadh. Uh, they’d say, all right, that’s not allowed. You guys get in there and bomb them. 

So we, that was my, my tour where I went in and got some actual bomb drop in combat time. Oh wow. Although I got to say, you know, in the grand scheme of things, I don’t, it was, you know, it was, we dropped bombs, you know, and it was, it was combat, but it wasn’t, I don’t want to over, I don’t want to overplay it. 

You know, it was, uh, it wasn’t, uh, the, you know, it’s lots of guys have seen a lot more and a lot tougher than that. Yeah, sure. 

Jeff:

Where were you on nine 11? 

JP:

Not 11. So by then I had finished with that squadron. I was in Texas. I was in another F-18 squadron and, uh, I was in the squadron on the day. In fact, I had just done a lot of work to arrange for our squadron to go up to NAS. Oh, I think, no, no, to Otis air force base in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. This was a deployment. 

This is going to be great. It was just, we’re going to go up there for, I think, 10 flying days flight fight against the F-15s. We’d put it all together. We were due to take like 10 aircraft up there on 9-12. So on the 12th, we were going to go up there. You know, it takes a lot of work to organize that. It’d been weeks in the making and 9-11 happened. 

So I remember being on base. We had a staff meeting with the colonel that morning. and people were running in and I remember I had seen, I think the meeting started before the first tower fell and I was just skeptical at that point. I’m like, come on, what was it a Cessna? I don’t get it. You know, I was, I was like, I’m not so sure what’s happening here. 

And we went into a meeting and we’re talking about it of course. And then somebody came in and was saying, you know, the towers fell, the first tower fell. And it was like, Oh shit, this is absolutely for real. So, you know, base went into full lockdown. We recalled people immediately were like, we better, we better be able to put missiles and stuff on aircraft in case they call us. 

So we were, yeah, we were, we were accessing, you know, the ordinance bays and, and I don’t think we loaded up our jets. Um, but we had them, you know, we had them ready. We were, we were waiting for somebody to say, you need to put bombs on these things, put missiles on these things and get airborne. Yeah. And, um, that call didn’t come that day. 

The next day, uh, you know, DFW where this was in Texas, we were outside, we were in Fort Worth and, uh, that’s some of the busiest airspace in the world. So the next day we were up flying just over the DFW airspace, you know, keeping an eye on things, but, um, yeah, it was, you know, I remember every moment of the day and obviously our deployment got canceled. 

Um, which, you know, in the grand scheme of things is not a big deal, but I remember thinking, well, that’s that nevermind, nevermind my, paid vacation to Cape Cod, flight F-15s. In fact, instead of that, we, because we had to do some training. 

So we canceled the Cape Cod and we went back to the middle of the desert to do night flying, which, you know, yeah, important and, uh, you know, very important mission wise, but no glamor involved at all. 

Jeff:

Right. And what, how many years of service do you have at this point? 

JP: 

So that would have taken me to about 11 or 12 years of service. Uh, now I was, I was through, uh, That’s actually through 15 years when I finished, and that was my last flying tour. So I took my last flight in the F-18 in 2003. I had, uh, yeah, I had 14 years of service. And I had, by then I had, I mean, I’d flown the F-18 literally over, over a thousand times, I think closer to about 1500 different flights in the aircraft. 

So it was, all of it was good. You know, it’s exactly what I had always wanted. And it was exactly what. Whatever I had pictured, that’s exactly how it played out. Like it was every bit is fun and cool and interesting and rewarding as I had ever imagined it would be. 

Jeff:

Is there any possible way that you can replicate that experience right now in your life? You drive cars fast. It like, what do you do? Yeah. Or do you not need it? Maybe you don’t need it. 

JP:

Yeah. I mean, I don’t feel like I need it anymore, but no, there’s, I mean, there’s, you know, uh, I guess every life, you know, I, I don’t feel like I can walk into a room and be like, well, nobody’s ever had sort of the, the, the high that I’ve had. 

I mean, you know, you can get that high in different parts of life. For me, it was in an airplane and it was really neat. Um, but you know, I, I, I, I, I, I’m humble about it. I mean, it was, it was a neat job. I’m glad I got to do it and it worked out really well for me. 

Jeff:

That’s awesome. Very respectful. How did you finish your career then? You’re the Marine Corps part of it. 

JP:

So Yeah, my, my lucky star sort of that I was sailing under continued because this was going to be my first job, not in a cockpit, you know, since I was 22. Okay. And I was long overdue because most people by then had been in and out of the cockpit at least once, if not twice. Well, I just had been stringing along flying jobs the whole time. 

You know, I, you couldn’t get me out of it, but the, you know, the day came and they’re like, all right, you better figure out what you want to do. And it, it doesn’t involve flying. Um, So, uh, I talked to a buddy who said, Hey, uh, apparently this guy just dropped out of a job. It’s at the U S embassy in Rome. 

Uh, and you need to learn Italian and then live there for three years. So it took one three minute conversation with my wife. Who’s like, yeah, I’m in, uh, and, and it worked out. 

And so I went in was the Marine Corps attache at U S embassy, Rome, uh, for three years. And we lived in Rome. We got a gorgeous apartment. By then we had a couple of kids. Um, and we had, you know, a nice apartment in Rome. I was part of the embassy team. 

And, uh, you know, so out of the F18 world into the, into the embassy world, you know, no, no sleeping bags, no, no crossing muddy rivers for me. I feel a little bad about that, but not really. Not really. Right. 

Jeff:

How’d you, how’d you get up to par real quick with the language? 

JP:

So it was, it was fortunate because I’d actually done a semester abroad in college and I did it in Italy. So I did have a pretty good background, uh, with the language. Uh, and then they, um, they sent me for a year. I did about six months of language training with the state department and then six months of attache training, uh, with, with the DOD. 

Um, so I, I got a full course in Italian and I had said earlier, you know, that’s where Latin comes in, man, it comes in handy because, uh, it’s just, I had a really good, you know, while some of my other, the people I was studying with were, were, were scratching their heads and, you know, whacking their shins over the grammar. Uh, for me, that was the easy part. Um, so yeah, so I got trained up in it and you know, you get, you get pretty good at it and then you get there and it only improves over the course of three years. 

So, um, and, and you know, it wasn’t a three year vacation, you know, we do Alliance maintenance, you know, uh, Italy’s a big member of NATO. That’s when Iraq, by then the Iraq war was back on in 2003. Um, Uh, in Italy was sending troops, you know, to Baghdad. 

Uh, and so that was sort of what the job entailed is, is, is helping manage that and, and being an advocate for the Marine Corps and a representative of the Marine Corps, uh, to the Italian armed forces. 

What’s, so attache versus, uh, diplomat. Or right. So technically, yeah, I was. Well, yeah, I mean, the diplomats are normally typically you’d say, well, the State Department, you know, that’s they’re all diplomats overseas. 

But inside an embassy, you’ve got, depending on the embassy, you can have Department of Commerce, Department of Homeland Security. uh, you have some FBI at various bases. So there’s, it’s a big mix of, um, of us government agencies, you know, state department sort of predominates and they certainly run the show. Uh, but so as an attache, yeah, I was an accredited diplomat. Uh, so I was enjoying diplomatic immunity, which is, you know, it sounds, it sounds better than it is. 

If you ever have to use it, you’re probably going to get sent home anyway. So it’s, it’s, you know, It’s like a get out of jail free card that you hope to never use. Um, but yeah, so I was a diplomat and um, you know, and, and was just part of the normal embassy team. 

Jeff:

It’s awesome. And then how many more years did you have until you retired? 

JP:

So I did three in Italy and then I had, I was, that took me to 18 years and I was ready. I knew I wanted to finish up at 20. Um, I was happy with everything, but I was, you know, I was good. So I just went back to the Pentagon for a two year tour. I could have gone flying again, but I just thought, uh, you know, I don’t really need to sit in Texas or Florida or, or, or California because I don’t really have any roots or ties there. 

So I went back to Virginia, uh, did a couple of interesting years in the Pentagon and then, uh, was at the point of retirement. 

Jeff:

Any, anything you’re allowed to tell us? Pentagon? At the Pentagon? 

JP:

Yeah. Uh, you know, it’s a great place to work. It’s a great building. Uh, it’s actually a, a, a fantastic building. You know, it’s amazing. Um, it’s, I guess the biggest office building in the world, but you can get from any one point to another in like no more than five or six minutes. Cause it’s just very well organized and laid out. 

They got a gorgeous, uh, athletic club there with a pool. I mean, I was training for a triathlon. I remember I could. Wow. And I could duck out the back door for my lunch and go run around the Washington monument, take a five mile run. 

You know, the next day I could duck out and, uh, you know, do a, do a 1500 meter swim in the, in the pool. So it’s a great, cool place to work. Uh, I’ll say 90% of the people that are in there, uh, are, it’s not their happy job. It’s there. You pay a little penance, you know, you got to serve your time in the Pentagon and then, and then move on. 

Jeff:

Interesting. Okay, so you finish your career two years there, but you’re still at that point right there. I’ll say that things were sort of like calming down for you, right? 

So you have like sort of a desk job. But you then had another whole part of a career ahead of you. Did you know that that was going to happen at the time? You’re 18 years in federal service. Did you look out and go, I still think I’m going to do something? Or did you feel like you were done? 

JP:

So no, it’s interesting because, you know, by the time I was at 18 year mark and deciding, all right, should I finish up in the Pentagon? What do I want to do next? Uh, probably 75% of everybody I went to flight school with was an airline pilot at United or American or FedEx. And I could have gotten back into that. Um, I had just done a master’s degree in international relations, uh, uh, before then. So I felt like I didn’t want to go back. 

I just, I think an airline pilot is a terrific job. It’s, it’s a great responsibility. It’s certainly a nice lifestyle, but it wasn’t for me. So yeah, as I, as I thought about, I mean, I was going to retire from the Marine Corps at age 43, you know, I mean, I’m, I’m, I’m young, I’m in good shape, I’m healthy, everything’s good. So, uh, I thought, well, I’m going to have to do something. 

Obviously I need an, I need something, whatever comes next. And I sort of figured, well, if it’s going to involve a desk and a computer, you know, I’m going to become a regular person again. I said, you know, that’s going to be, that’s going to be tough for me, but I guess if I could do it overseas, that would at least make it more interesting, you know, add a little spice or glamor to it. So that’s when I started thinking, you know, and I had been exposed to the embassy. 

I mean, I’d seen how an embassy operates. So that’s when I decided, well, maybe I’ll look at this foreign service thing and join the state department. So, um, you know, I applied and it’s sort of a lengthy process to get accepted and, you know, put into commission there, but, um, that all worked out. 

So, you know, from, from the Pentagon pretty quickly, I was, I was starting up with the state department. 

Jeff:

That’s incredible. All right. So state department, um, very broad in nature, right? 

JP:

They do tons and tons of different things. embassy, give us a little, give us a high level. Yeah. So yeah, the one-on-one on the state department is, uh, uh, so foreign service officers are primarily, uh, and there’s foreign service specialists. 

They might, there’s the folks that take care of your computers and, and do various other things. Foreign service officers, uh, basically you’re, you know, that’s, if you want to be a diplomat, that’s where you’re going to go into. 

And, uh, the state department for, for foreign service officers, there’s two places to work. And that’s Washington DC or a foreign country. That’s really your choices. I mean, there’s a couple people dotted, you know, there might be one or two in Philadelphia, one or two in Atlanta, but I mean, you know, 98% of everybody is either in DC or they’re at an embassy abroad. So. Uh, you go in and you get, uh, an orientate, you get an orientation. 

It’s about six weeks of, of sort of welcome to diplomacy, some basic training there. Um, and I will give, you know, a real hat tip to the state department because the Marine Corps does ceremonies and pomp very, very well. And I’d been involved in, you know, dozens of them and, you know, with the uniforms and the swords and the guns and the bands, you know, we really know how to put on a show. 

But the State Department, they do something really unique. And it’s, in my class, we had about 90 brand new diplomats, you know. And from, from the day when you land in Washington, D.C. in your plane and you go in and you get your State Department badge and ID card, from that day, five weeks later, all 90 of us get assigned to an embassy abroad. And they do it in what’s called a flag day ceremony. 

So you’ve done your basic initial training and And, uh, they’ve said, here’s the 90 jobs that are out there for you guys. You know, which ones do you want? 

And it’s, it’s all over the world. I mean, it’s from the tip of South America up to the Russian Far East to all of Africa, Asia, you know, even just Canada nearby. So you kind of have some say in where you’re going to go and you, you make your selections. You’d say, here’s, here’s my preferences. 

And then they put all 90 of us in an auditorium and one by one they say, you know, a political officer position in, you know, in Bogota, Colombia will be filled by and they put the flag up for Columbia, and then they call a name and none of us have any idea where we’re going. 

And you literally do not know if you’re, you know, what continent you’re going to be going to. And one through 90, they run through the list and everybody finds out, you know, in this one hour ceremony. 

So it was, you know, like I said, the Marine Corps does stuff. Well, this was, it was every bit as good. Yeah. It was really cool. It was really cool. And you’re cheering for your friends and everybody sort of shrugs and sort of, you know, if there, there’s a, there’s a tough one out there, you know, you’re going to some, some very, very tough spot. You know, there’s a, it’s a hush falls over the crowd. 

Jeff:

What’d you get? 

JP:

I got Belgrade, Serbia, which is, um, you know, it’s Europe. Come on. I mean, it’s, it’s, it’s not bad at all. And so, yeah, you got three years. So, No, that’s a two year tour and it came with a year of language. So I went back to FSA, I went back to the, to the state department language school and I got a year of Serbian, Serbo-Croatian. And then, uh, when we finished that, picked up the family and we all headed to Belgrade for, uh, for two years. 

Two years. And then the, okay. 

Jeff:

So at that point you’re now two years in to your, I’m going to call it your third career. Um, But it’s state department. And then how many years total did you have to do in state department? 

JP:

You can do whatever you want. I mean, state departments, uh, I think, yeah, there’s no real obligation to stay leave. It’s, it’s, it’s more like any other job where you can, you know, if it’s not for you, you can get out. Um, there’s some expectation that you’re going to do. 

So for every us foreign service officer, uh, you go and do your initial training there and then you, you will get assigned to two overseas posts. That’s the way they do it. And the first two are both two year assignments. 

And then after that you can come back to DC, you can stay overseas, you can do whatever you want. So, You know, there’s an expectation that, you know, they take the time to train you and send you abroad. 

You’re going to do that tour and you’re going to do your next tour as well. Another two years stint overseas. 

Jeff:

So what’d you do then for your next one? 

JP:

My next one was Mumbai, India. So I went from, yeah, I went from, from Belgrade, uh, you know, came back for just maybe six, six, eight weeks of training in the summer and then off to Mumbai again with the family. 

Um, and, and, and over to Mumbai for two years, that was it then. Uh, and then. 

Jeff:

What’s that? Was it two and done or was there more? 

JP:

No, no. No, there’s more to it. Oh, more to it. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. So I, I, you know, it was actually, um, Um, so, you know, we had, we talked to some family and my wife said, yeah, this is, you know, we, we liked the embassy and it wasn’t just Rome and Italy and the food and the wine. It was more of the expat community. 

It’s really kind of neat because, you know, you’ve got these hundred, well, you know, you’ve got a couple hundred Americans living overseas and you form some, you know, it’s, it’s pretty tight community. 

You know, we do, we do Halloween in the embassy parking lot, you know, and everybody shows up and you do, you know, there’s a, the ambassador usually has a Christmas party. 

So you go to the ambassador’s residence and you, so, you know, it’s, it’s a pretty tight bond there. And, uh, and that’s what, you know, I mean, I found the work interesting, but, but that part of it made, made for a good family life abroad. 

So we found that in Belgrade We found it again in India. And, um, so from that tour, uh, I was like, yeah, let’s stick with it. This is good. We did come back to the U S for three years. Uh, I did a couple of different jobs there in Washington. Uh, and then, uh, okay. 

We’re, you know, kind of recharge their batteries, connected with family back here and said, all right, let’s do it again. Let’s get out of here. Uh, and I, again, my lucky stars continued because, uh, my next job I got assigned for a four year tour in Australia. And, Yeah. We went to the embassy in Canberra. Australians like to knock Canberra. They’ll say, you know, Oh, well, you know, it’s not Melbourne. 

It’s not Sydney. But, um, we loved it. And it’s a perfect place for a family. You know, it’s, it’s, it’s three seasons. The air is great. There’s no traffic. It’s, you know, the schools were good. The kids were happy. We just had, we had four terrific years in Australia. Um, and so then after that, that’s where I retired at. I’ve came home from Australia and said, I didn’t get any better than this. I’m out. 

Jeff:

You’re done back to DC. Here you are. And how many years ago was that? 

JP:

So that was about a year ago. So I’ve been home. We’ve been back for about a year. And then you started your, tell us a little bit about your business now. Yeah. So my business, it’s, uh, I have, uh, I’ve always been, uh, kind of a, handy person, you know, when we bought our first house in Texas, I started collecting some tools and, you know, did the hairy homeowner thing and was fixing and repairing. 

And so Uh, I started doing a little bit of woodworking. I actually started working a little bit in concrete too. And, um, over the years, uh, it’s been a hobby and I’ve sort of had my eyes on, you know, when I, the day I have any free time and when I don’t have this damn job. 

So yeah, we came back here. Uh, I retired from state and, um, I started up a little LLC. It’s act three studio. We make, uh, make light furniture and housewares in wood and concrete. And, uh, it’s, it’s still more of a hobby than a job. So I call it a jobby and, um, you know, it’s just, it’s been nice. I have all kinds of flexibility. I mean, for 35 years I had somewhere to be on Monday at either 0 5 AM or 0 8 30 at the latest. 

Right. And I was always happy to be there. You know, I had great careers, but, um, I’m in for a little me time now. So that’s what I’m doing. And, uh, it’s been a blast, you know, I’m having, having a lot of fun and, and, uh, you know, enjoying a nice pace of life. That’s awesome. Well, congratulations to you. 

We do also want to thank you for your service. I mean, yeah, we’re grateful. The things that we take for granted every day that we can walk from here across the street without getting shot at. Yeah, I appreciate it. And I know, uh, we all do, you know, it’s, um, it’s interesting because, um, you really feel it, you know, I, and you don’t see it when you’re in uniform and you’re kind of like, Hey, I just, you know, it’s a job or it’s, you know, are you kidding me? 

I’m getting paid to do this, you know, but, um, it’s nice to see it. And I think we all, all veterans in all military of the U S no, we’re well supported and well regarded. Um, So that’s, that’s, I appreciate that. 

Jeff:

All right. One, one last question for you. Yeah. The movie Top Gun. How realistic is it? 

JP:

First or second? 

Jeff:

First. 

JP:

The first one was, I mean, I will say this, uh, the flying scenes are awesome. I mean, it’s, that’s, you know, I had, I had like, I had looked into aviation. I saw the movie and I sat there as transfixed as anybody. I’m like, Oh man, this is, I could be actually doing this. Yeah. The flying is it’s real. 

I mean, it is just either flying over the desert to find out the ocean. I mean, it’s just good, cool stuff. 

Jeff:

All right. So JP said it’s pretty realistic. Do you have an example of a, like a top gun moment in your career? 

JP:

Yeah. Uh, I mean, probably lots. We did a lot of that type of flying, you know, four before you would typically say four, four of us against four simulated, you know, Russian or other adversaries. But I remember, uh, you know, one flight that sticks out, uh, we were, we were in that kind of fight. 

So, you know, you’re, um, I’m up in the air and I’m looking around and I see my wingman down here and he’s, he’s engaged with somebody. So, uh, he’s, he’s down below me about 10,000 feet. So I say, all right. Nobody’s after me, I’m gonna help out my wingman. 

So I roll inverted, point my nose straight at the ground, and from about 10,000 feet above him, I shoot a sidewinder simulated into this F-16 that my wingman is battling with. And I call, you know, kill F-16, left hand turn 12,000 feet. He says, copy kill, so he’s gonna remove, he knows he’s dead. And my nose is pointed straight at the ground. 

So as I pull up, you know, my attention’s down there too. As I pull the nose back up to the horizon and look up, I see an F-16 wingspan and it feels like it’s 50 feet in front of me. I mean, the, the, the, the aircraft is filling my windscreen, you know, and, uh, it’s not that close, but it was, you know, it was a lot closer than I expected. 

And it just shoots right over my head and it’s gone. Um, So I’m like, Oh, you know, it gets your attention, but quickly I’m like, Oh, you know, all right, let’s keep going. 

And, and, you know, you, you focus back on the flight. So, you know, later on in the debrief, uh, we met up with the guys and I said, all right, uh, what did, what do you guys kind of like, you know, when I, I do this kill call here and I look up, somebody kind of flew by me. 

Did you see me there? And this guy’s like, oh yeah, I had you, I had you. And I thought, what do you mean you had me? You know, you had me. Why did you almost hit me? 

But, you know, I just played it off and, you know, it wasn’t maybe not as dangerous as I thought, but that’s just typical day, you know, wild stuff happens out there. 

Jeff:

That’s awesome. Thank you so much again for taking the time here, JP. I mean, this was incredible. We’re going to go ahead and wrap up here. If somebody wants to get ahold of you, If they want to look into your business, do you have a website? Do you have an Instagram page? What do you have? 

JP:

So I do. It’s it’s it’s act3studio.com and it’s actiiistudio.com. 

Jeff:

Very cool. All right. Well, we appreciate it. Thanks again. 

JP:
Great to be here. 

Jeff:

And and good luck with everything, Joe. All right. Thanks, JP. 

JP:

Yep. Take care.

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