August 5, 2014 (by A1C Jonathan Bass) - One pilot in the 55th Fighter Squadron looks like any other pilot in the Air Force but with one exception, he's not an Airman.
USMCs Maj. Eric Hugg, 55th FS chief of training, stands next to an F-16CJ at Shaw AFB on July 31st, 2014. Hugg is a trained AV-8B II Harrier pilot in the Marine Corps assigned to the 55th FS as an F-16 pilot, part of a USMC and USAF exchange program. [USAF photo by A1C. Jonathan Bass]
Maj. Eric Hugg is an Airman for now, but he'll always be a Marine.
Hugg, 55th FS
chief of training, is a part of an exchange program that gives United States Marine Corps pilots the opportunity to fly with the 55th FS here and learn how the Air Force accomplishes its mission.
A Rockville, Maryland, native, Hugg has been in the Marine Corps since 1997. He enlisted in the Reserves as a combat engineer, but from his date of enlistment, his goal was simple: he wanted his Navy wings. In 2003 he graduated from the University of Maryland with a bachelor's degree in Criminology and a commission in the Corps.
"I didn't care [what aircraft I was assigned]," said Hugg. "I wanted to fly fixed-wing jets, but I didn't care what kind of jet at the time."
It wasn't until after the phase of pilot training the Marine Corps calls, 'jet school', he decided that he wanted to fly the A/V-8B Harrier II, he said.
The Harrier is a single-engine aircraft capable of vertical take-off and landing that has been operational in the Marine Corps since 1985.
Once Hugg went out to the fleet, the Corps' version of the operational Air Force, he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Air Wing, Marine Attack Squadron 311, at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona.
After Yuma, Hugg was a Harrier instructor pilot with the 2nd MAW, Marine Attack Training Squadron 203, at MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina.
While at Cherry Point, Hugg got the opportunity to apply for the exchange program to fly with the Air Force.
"I was lucky enough to work with and know four guys who had done this exchange before me," said Hugg. "All the guys that did this exchange who I got to run into had nothing but phenomenal things to say about it. They highly recommended it and told me that if I ever had the opportunity that I should jump on it."
A big part of the Harrier's mission is air-to-ground combat, and fortunately for Hugg, the 55th FS and 20th Fighter Wing train for air-to-ground; but the F-16CJ
Fighting Falcon also participates in air-to-air combat, meaning that Hugg had to learn another style of fighting.
"He's faced a challenging situation," said Maj. Byron Neira, 55th FS flight commander. "He's had some learning to do, he probably knows more than anyone in the squadron about air-to-ground combat, but he had to learn the whole other side of what we do."
Hugg dropped a bomb on all the expectations set for him, said Neira.
"As the chief of training, he has to know all the rules, regulations, the book keeping; he has to know all the [Air Force Instructions], and he's not even an Airman," said Neira. "He had to learn how the Air Force flies in addition to learning to fly the F-16."
The comparisons between the F-16 and the Harrier are similar to comparing apples to oranges, said Hugg.
"The jets are completely different," said Hugg. "At Cherry Point there are around 30 events before a student is allowed to fly the airplane by himself. When I went to Luke, AFB
, Arizona, I had one flight with an instructor then I went out and flew out by myself."
Hugg went on to say that with the F-16, tactics are the bread and butter of the airplane, whereas with the Harrier, basic flight skills are the staple.
Neira explained that from his experiences flying two airframes, Hugg provides accurate and invaluable feedback for the Air Force.
"We're seeing now that the next generation of pilots doesn't have real combat experience," said Neira. "Hugg brings real experiences and can provide a different perspective."
Despite the differences in service-specific language and minor ways the Air Force does things, the professionalism, the attention to detail, and the knowledge of craft that Airmen exhibit is unbelievable, said Hugg.
"I would feel comfortable flying into combat going all the way up to Col. Jost (20th FW commander), and all the way down to the newest pilot in the squadron," said Hugg.
"From Hugg's time here, I've learned that our sister services and us can work together," said Neira. "We're actually on the same sheet of music, the operations dovetail together."
Hugg will fly with the 55th for two more years before he returns to Headquarters USMC, Quantico, Virginia. The exchange program has been here since the 1940s, and, based on his experiences, Hugg will recommend it to the next generation of Marines.
"I've never had a more exciting or fulfilling experience," said Hugg.
Neira said that Hugg's ability as an F-16 pilot should be a comfort to any Air Force or Marine Corps pilot.
"I've got complete faith in him as a wingman," said Neira.