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Haas set to hang up flight suit after almost 27 years of service

  • Published
  • By John Ingle
  • 82nd Training Wing Public Affairs

SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — Col. Robert F. Haas Jr.’s life has admittedly been full of unplanned journeys.

His almost 27-year adventure as an Air Force officer and aviator will come to a close June 24, 2022, when he relinquishes command of the 80th Flying Training Wing here and retires from the service.

“I’ve tried to get out of the Air Force five different times,” he said. “I just enjoy serving. I think as long as we’re still having fun, and contributing to the mission, we wanted to stay.”

This time, though, he said it will stick.

Haas’s military journey began in 1991 at The Citadel in South Carolina. He said he had no real intentions of joining the military, but he decided to join the ROTC there, spending two years in the Army ROTC program before transitioning to the Air Force. An internship with a commercial shipping and receiving company helped him realize what he didn’t want to do, and he commissioned in 1995.

Haas never considered being a pilot in the Air Force, but it was while attending field training between The Citadel and his first duty assignment that he was first exposed to aviation when he went for a flight in a T-37 Tweet. The seed of being a military pilot was planted even more when he got to Columbus AFB, Mississippi, as a finance officer, and he lived in the same dorms as student pilots. It wasn’t long afterward that he began working on his package to apply for undergraduate pilot training.

The colonel said he wasn’t chosen during the first two active-duty selection boards, and he began looking at Guard and Reserve units as options to land a seat in an aircraft. He was lined up to join the 315th Airlift Wing, a Reserve C-17 unit in Charleston, South Carolina — he even had a separation date — when it was discovered during a 1998 medical exam that he has two aortic valve flaps instead of three. As a healthy, athletic young officer, this wasn’t acceptable.

“They said this was a disqualifying medical condition — disqualifying from the Reserves, disqualifying from active duty. Disqualifying from everything,” he said, sharing his displeasure in the findings. “I didn’t know any better, so as a finance officer, literally every day for three or four weeks I’d show up for sick call in flight medicine and I was like, ‘Clearly they had made a mistake.’”

After a review process of his medical history and records, Haas said he became the first non-flyer in the Air Force to get a waiver for an aortic bicuspid valve. Once cleared, he began flying training in Class 00-09 at Columbus.

“I experienced every emotion under the rainbow,” he said. “Happy, sad, glad, surprised, angry but determined. It’s not so much that I wanted to be a pilot as it was I wasn’t going to let them tell me ‘no’ for a reason I didn’t value.”

Haas said he didn’t care what aircraft he was assigned, he just wanted something with afterburners and one seat. That worked out as he earned the opportunity to fly the F-16 Falcon upon graduating in May 2000.

The highlight of his F-16 career, the colonel said, came on Dec. 13, 2003, when he and a wingman were patrolling the skies over Iraq, supposedly a normal mission. He said they began hearing chatter from joint air traffic controllers on the ground and a request to “make noise between Tikrit and Baghdad,” to which Haas and his fellow F-16 fighter pilot acknowledged and accomplished.

Haas said they returned to base — after going over the allowed night flying time because their relief jets broke — went through the traditional debriefs and went to bed not really knowing the purpose of the Tikrit-to-Baghdad mission.

“Literally woke up to, ‘Ladies and gentlemen, we got him,’” he said, referring to the day Iraqi President Saddam Hussein was captured at a farm south of Tikrit. “I started to count the hours back and said, ‘That was us.’”

Haas later transitioned to the F-117A Nighthawk — commonly referred to as the “stealth fighter” even though it did not have a fighter function — and was part of the last group of F-117 pilots to retire the Air Force’s first aircraft with stealth technology. Professional military development and staff jobs took up the majority of the middle years before the seasoned veteran returned to where his aviation career began to become a pilot instructor and serve as a T-38C Talon squadron commander, thus beginning his journey into creating the next generation of Air Force pilots.

The colonel’s glide path eventually landed him here as commander of the 80th FTW, home of the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program, which he calls the crown jewel of combat pilot training. From top to bottom and everywhere in between, he said the teamwork and accomplishments of the organization are what makes ENJJPT phenomenal, he said.

“If you were to ask me, I’m probably the laziest person in the wing,” he said. “To me, that’s a sign of good success because the machine will continue to run on, and that’s because the leadership at all levels will carry it through.”

While many look at tangibles to accentuate successes in their career, a common fabric of many military leaders is the immeasurable support they receive from those closest to them — their families. With wife Lori by his side throughout his voyage and the resiliency of his children — Robert, 17, and Gracyn, 15 — the Haas military family has been all-in.

“It’s who we are. We’re a military family. My kids are military brats,” he said. “We try to balance time. I’m not going to make every soccer game, but I’ll make a few. I’m not going to make every holiday, but I’ll make the ones I can. I’m pretty proud of my kiddos — they’re quite resilient — and I’m super proud of my wife.”

June 25 will be the first day of Haas’s newest unplanned journey, but, he said, there won’t be anything he’ll miss. A year later, he said, he will definitely miss the people he has served with over the past 26-plus years of wearing the uniform.

He’ll also know, based on his experience in the training arena, that the Air Force will be just fine without him.

“I just had my last flight with the (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals) squadron and flew with a young lieutenant whose name I don’t know, but he’s going off to fly F-22s. I just had a hoot of a sortie,” he said. “I know he’ll keep the skies safe not just for America, but the (NATO) alliance. I’ll sleep easy at night.”