New commander brings passion to Spangdahlem

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, addresses his Airmen during an assumption of command ceremony July 11, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, including 450 combat hours over Serbia and Iraq in operations Allied Force, Southern Watch, Northern Watch and Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, addresses his Airmen during an assumption of command ceremony July 11, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau is a command pilot with more than 3,000 flying hours, including 450 combat hours over Serbia and Iraq in operations Allied Force, Southern Watch, Northern Watch and Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Pete Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, salutes after his first flight in the Eifel as the wing commander July 14, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau has been immersing himself into the Spangdahlem community and learning first-hand about the many missions of the 52nd FW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Pete Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, salutes after his first flight in the Eifel as the wing commander July 14, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau has been immersing himself into the Spangdahlem community and learning first-hand about the many missions of the 52nd FW. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Daryl Knee/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, speaks to an Airman during a commander's call at the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center July, 16, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau and Chief Master Sgt. Brian Gates, 52nd FW command chief talked about their background, families and priorities, and later held a question and answer session. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

U.S. Air Force Col. Peter Bilodeau, 52nd Fighter Wing commander, speaks to an Airman during a commander's call at the Skelton Memorial Fitness Center July, 16, 2014, at Spangdahlem Air Base, Germany. Bilodeau and Chief Master Sgt. Brian Gates, 52nd FW command chief talked about their background, families and priorities, and later held a question and answer session. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rusty Frank/Released)

SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany -- U.S. Air Force Col. Pete Bilodeau assumed duties as the 52nd Fighter Wing commander here July 11, 2014.

Bilodeau, pronounced bill-eh-doo, is a pilot of the U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter aircraft, commonly known the "Viper," and is rated as a command pilot with 3,000 flight hours, 450 of those in combat.

Passion for Flight

He has served more than 20 years, but Bilodeau said his passion for flying began much earlier, when he was 13 or 14 years old and flew with his cousin in a four-seater airplane. His cousin piloted the aircraft, but would let young Bilodeau take control for short periods of flight.

During this time, Bilodeau also began working as a line boy, or entry-level airplane servicer, at the North Central State Airport in Rhode Island. He performed manual labor on the airplanes, usually moving, washing or waxing. All the money from this job went to his pilot lessons, and on his 16th birthday while all his friends bragged about getting to drive a car soon, he took his ambitions to a higher level.

"Instead of going down to the (Department of Motor Vehicles) and waiting in line for hours to get a driver's license, I decided to spend my birthday at the airport," he said. "I basically started flying solo the rest of that week. It was funny because my parents had to drop me off at the airport, and the next thing you know, I'm climbing into an airplane and flying."

As his passion for flight increased, he looked into colleges that had flying programs. He decided to enroll in the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Florida.

In his first year, Bilodeau attended one of the college's sponsored airshows as an exhibitor for a civilian aircraft display. During one event, a U.S. Air Force fighter jet stole the audience from Bilodeau's display. At that moment, he knew that was what he wanted to do and decided to join the Air Force ROTC at Embry-Riddle to earn a commission into the military.

"You can achieve anything if you put your mind to it and work hard," he said. "I didn't come from a wealthy family. I didn't come from a military family. Everything I've done since age 18 when I left the house and went to school was on my own ... just like our Airmen do when they come into the Air Force at 18. We're on our own -- but part of the Air Force family -- and it's all about our own work ethic and personal motivation."

He commissioned in 1992 and completed undergraduate pilot training in 1994. Since then, he has served as a squadron weapons officer, flight commander, weapons school instructor, flight examiner, operations officer, squadron commander and most recently the commander of the 8th Operations Group at Kunsan Air Base, Republic of Korea.

The Air Force and Family

Throughout these events, Bilodeau was once married and has three children. Now, he is single and has joint custody of his children and said he considers himself a geographically separated dad. One of his personal goals is to be the best geographically separated dad ever.

"I had to make a tough choice regarding this assignment," he said about balancing his desires to be near his children and to continue his military service. "But I talked with the kids and asked them about it, and they said it was okay as long as I maintain communication as often as possible and visit. Supportive family and supportive friends help us through the challenging times. What every Airman needs to realize is that every base they go to, that base is their Air Force family."

Every family has unique circumstances, he continued. There is no such thing as a picture-perfect family. And if Airmen are willing to share their personal stories, front-line supervisors can step up and step in to help.

"Resiliency is the key," he said about staying combat ready despite life's challenges. "You have to be able to look at the positive. If any Airman feels like they're in the dumps, we have a great team to help. You move through it and keep a positive attitude."

For Bilodeau, taking care of Spangdahlem's Airmen, or Saber Nation, is a part of his job set upon him by the senior leaders of 3rd Air Force and U.S. Air Forces in Europe and Air Forces Africa. Saber Nation includes anyone who has any affiliation with Spangdahlem, whether it is active-duty service members, civilians, retirees, German employees, contractors, NATO allies, tenant units -- every person touched by the 52nd FW's mission of defending American and allied interests, and building partner capacity.

To that effect, Bilodeau has charged the Saber Nation to know exactly what the fighter wing's warcry of "Seek, Attack, Destroy" means to him.

Seek.
Without security, you cannot seek.

In order to seek, Airmen must be able to go out on the offensive. The first step in achieving that goal is the safety and security of assets. Bilodeau said every Airman has a responsibility in base defense by being aware of their surroundings and having the courage to do what is necessary when called upon.

Attack.
Without readiness, you cannot attack.

Bilodeau said Airmen at all levels and occupations must strive to become a master of their tradecraft. He used an example of security forces members deployed to a combat zone without any training on their rifles. Those Airmen would be ill prepared and could die in an unnecessary and tragic loss.

Destroy.
Without capability, you cannot destroy.

Using F-16 pilots as an example, Bilodeau said Airmen must be capable and proficient to accurately destroy their target. Having to attack something more than once and not destroying it the first time means the pilot is not efficient in the profession of arms. And being combat capable is all part of the comprehensive Airman fitness concept, which encourages service members to be mentally, physically, spiritually and socially ready at all times.

Bilodeau also said that while the warcry is primarily designed for warfighting, it also applies to all missions across the range of military operations. In those non-combat missions, Airmen of the base can actively seek out problems either in the wing or in the community. Then, they can develop innovative solutions to attack the root of the problem. Destroy, in this sense, means to be successful in the endeavor.

However, one problem that still plagues most military installations is the communication flow between base leadership and junior Airmen and their families. Bilodeau said he wants to bridge the gap by taking the guidance from senior Air Force leaders and creating clear and concise wing-commander's intent to share with his wing.

"If the youngest Airman doesn't know what he's expected to do, we're failing as commanders and leaders," he said.

But Bilodeau said he expects the communication channel to work as a two-way street -- he wants Airmen to bring up issues or challenges to their chain of command. An easy way to disappoint senior leaders, he warned, is undetected non-compliance. Once a problem is identified, it can be resolved to get the focus back on the mission.

"I'm proud and humbled to serve as your wing commander," he said. "I know you all will respect the office of the wing commander, but Pete Bilodeau has to earn your respect. I'll do that by ensuring the mission remains our top priority, we take care of all our Airmen and families, and at the same time continuing to strengthen the great relationship we have with our German neighbors."