December 31, 2008 (by SSgt. Don Branum) - An F-16 Fighting Falcon pilot with the 14th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Joint Base Balad got a special present on Christmas Day: a brand-new set of captain's bars. And he got to celebrate it at 14,000 feet.
Capt. Kevin Danaher flashes a hand signal from the cockpit of F-16C block 50 #92-3912 at Balad AB after being promoted in an airborne ceremony on December 25th, 2008. Danaher, the standardization and evaluations liaison for the 14th EFS and a native of Crystal River, is deployed from Misawa AB. [USAF photo by TSgt. Erik Gudmundson]
Capt. Kevin Danaher, a native of Crystal River, Fla., joined the Air Force to fly, so it seemed only natural to be promoted inside the cockpit of his F-16.
"I'd heard of people doing that in the past, and I thought it would be fitting while flying a combat sortie with my boss," said Danaher, who is deployed from Misawa Air Base, Japan. "I usually fly nights, but I switched to days so I could fly with him."
Danaher's boss is the 14th EFS commander, Lt. Col. Shane Riza.
"I had the operations supervisor read the promotion order over the radio," said Riza, a native of Cleburne, Texas. "During a promotion, it's traditional to reaffirm our oath of office. That's usually done while standing beside a flag, so we both flew with flags."
The promotion ceremony followed a normal mission generated from a Joint Air Tasking Order, Danaher said.
"We had 10 minutes of gas to burn down before we landed," the captain said. "It took two or three minutes to call into ops and have them publish the promotion orders."
An officer usually raises his right hand while accepting the oath of office, but an F-16 pilot needs both hands to control more than 10 tons of airframe that can fly at speeds up to Mach 2.
"We changed the first part of the oath," Danaher said. "Instead of saying, 'Raise your right hand and repeat after me,' Colonel Riza said, 'With your hand on the stick of a mighty F-16 ... repeat after me.'"
Danaher comes from a family with a history of military service, including his father and two of his uncles. He joined the squadron earlier this year after finishing his training at Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and has come to think of the squadron as an extended family.
"We're a very tight-knit base and a tight-knit squadron. Deploying with the squadron is like bringing part of my family with me. It definitely makes the deployment easier," he said.
The captain's current tour in Iraq
is his first combat deployment. He has accumulated 150 combat flight hours, bringing his total F-16 flight hours to approximately 500.
"This is a highly technical career field," Riza said. "Our focus is to make young officers experts in the airplane first. As they improve their skills and tactical knowledge, we give them additional responsibilities."
Danaher said he's ready for the challenges. In the future, he wants to attend the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and become a squadron commander.
As a mission-ready F-16 wingman, Danaher's combat sorties include armed overwatch for ground forces and searching for improvised explosive devices and enemy indirect fire teams, but his job on the ground as a standardization and evaluations liaison officer is one of the most important in the squadron, Riza said.
"He keeps me and the director of operations straight on the qualifications for our pilots, tracks our checkride status and makes sure everyone knows the technical orders," Riza said. "He's been doing excellent work, and I expect great things from him."