October 4, 2008 (by SSgt. Don Branum) - An F-16 pilot with the 332nd Expeditionary Fighter Squadron flew his 100th combat sortie, an armed overwatch mission over Baghdad, Oct. 2.
Lt. Cols. David 'Surge' Serage and Todd 'Pig' Higgs pose for a photograph in front of Serage's USAF F-16C block 42 #90-0702 from the 112th FS at Balad AB on October 2nd, 2008. Serage, an instructor pilot with the 332nd EFS, flew his 100th combat sortie, and Higgs flew as his wingman. [USAF photo by SSgt. Don Branum]
Lt. Col. David Serage's accomplishment highlights a 19-year Air Force and Air National Guard career that began as a childhood dream.
"I've always wanted to be a pilot." Serage said. "My Mom said, when I was about 5 or 6, I started talking about flying."
He kept his vision in mind, even though he didn't know quite how to fulfill it until he got into high school.
"When I was in my sophomore year, my brother told me about a little wayward school in Colorado Springs," Serage said. The "little wayward school" was the U.S. Air Force Academy, and the Grove, Okla. native set his sights on attending. He spoke with an Academy liaison in Tulsa, who helped him put together a nomination package. His Congressman endorsed the nomination, and he then competed against candidates from other states for a slot in the prestigious institution.
"I was 18, and the Air Force Academy was a far cry from Grove High School," Serage said. "It was a huge culture shock coming in, but it was a good experience and a great education. I made lifelong friends there and got a real appreciation for the Air Force."
After graduating from pilot training at Vance Air Force Base, Okla., Serage flew B-52 Stratobombers and T-38 Talons. It was while flying a T-38 cross-country flight that he met his wife in Toledo, Ohio. They married in 1995 and immediately moved to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Wash.
"The Air Force had retired the F-111 (Aardvark), and the EF-111 (Raven) was in the process of retiring, and that left a dent in the Air Force's air defense suppression capability," Serage said. "So Air Force pilots flew EA-6B Prowlers jointly with the Navy."
Serage was deployed for about 2½ years out of the four years he flew with the Navy. He still vividly recalls his first combat mission, in which he flew an EA-6B over northern Iraq in support of Operation Northern Watch.
"I remember crossing the Turkish border and going into Iraq for the first time," he said. "It was almost surreal -- there were active missile sites and anti-aircraft artillery. It wasn't uncommon to see AAA
detonations in the air as we were flying, and the Iraqi air force flew MiGs over their airspace (between) the no-fly zones."
Serage moved to Tulsa in 1999 when he joined the Air National Guard. He flew his first F-16 missions with the Tulsa ANG
's 138th Fighter Wing, conducting missions in support of Operation Southern Watch.
"It was a little tricky, adjusting from B-52s and EA-6Bs to F-16s," said Serage, who has flown a total of 4,700 hours. "But I had some good instructors -- some very patient instructor pilots."
Serage first met Lt. Col. Todd Higgs, his wingman for his 100th combat sortie, shortly after joining the Tulsa ANG, and the two formed a close friendship.
"He's hilarious," said Higgs, an F-16 pilot with the 332nd EFS. "He's a funny dude. He's very serious about what he does, though. He's a family man and a God-fearing, outstanding individual. I'm proud to be his wingman and to be his friend."
Serage also deployed to Joint Base Balad in 2007 to support Operation Iraqi Freedom. The tempo of combat has changed significantly in that year, he said.
"Last year, it seemed like we were dropping ordnance quite a bit," he said. "This year, that portion of our mission has scaled back. I attribute that to a successful military and diplomatic operation. Still, our strength and troop support is projected through continuous armed air presence."
Reaching 100 sorties doesn't mean what it used to. During World War II, bomber pilots were lucky to reach 50 combat sorties without being shot down. During the Vietnam War, pilots had to fly 100 sorties before they could return home from their tour. Today, reaching such a milestone means something different.
"When I hear the words, '100 combat sorties,' I think of the great Airmen of earlier wars," Serage said. "To me, achieving this mark reminds me of our proud Air Force heritage. The Airmen who flew, fought and won in previous conflicts have brought us the freedoms that make our country the greatest in the world."
He attributes his own success in his sorties to the Airmen on the ground who work tirelessly to ensure he can get his fighter off the ground and to the mission area.
"I returned to Balad the other night when weather had brought visibility to approach minimums and received the best radar-conducted approach I've ever had in my life," Serage said. "By today's standards, the Precision Approach Radar is a pretty antiquated system, and I haven't flown a PAR approach in six or seven years, but the controller with the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron was phenomenal.
"I have great pride in all the support that goes into making this mission happen," he said. "I know the Airmen here work countless hours, and I thank them and their families for that."