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Cobras bid farewell to retiring T-6 instructors

  • Published
  • By Debbie Gildea
  • 340th Flying Training Group

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-Randolph, Texas – The 39th Flying Training Squadron will bid farewell to two retiring Cobras Friday, May 1, at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Because of COVID-19 restrictions, there will not be a formal ceremony.

Lt. Col. Dean Hoekstra retires after 25 years of service, during which he accumulated nearly 6,000 hours in the T-37 Tweet, T-38 and AT-38B Talon, C-130 Hercules, AC-130H, T-6 Texan and the QF-4 Phantom.

The 1994 San Diego State University political science graduate earned his commission through the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps program. He completed Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training in 1996 at Sheppard AFB, Texas, and was later assigned to the 16th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, flying the AC-130H. During that assignment he flew in support of Operation Anaconda.

As a member of the Regular Air Force (or active duty), he was also a 41st Flying Training Squadron T-37B instructor pilot.

Among a host of career highlights, he is particularly proud of his crew's opportunity to fly the AC-130 Gunship in support of the 10th Mountain Division 's 75th Ranger Regiment, 1st Battalion, while the Army unit was engaged in a hostile firefight.

The Army's 10th Mountain Division - a light infantry division from Fort Drum, New York – is the only unit of its size in the U.S. military to receive intense specialized training to enable the unit to fight in mountainous and arctic environments.

Because of the location and conditions, Hoekstra's crew and gunship were the perfect combination to support the mountain fighters. The AC-130 is a heavily armed, long-endurance, ground-attack variant of the C-130 Hercules transport, fixed-wing aircraft. It carries a wide array of ground attack weapons that are integrated with sophisticated sensors, navigation, and fire-control systems.

Following that fateful mission, those 10th Mountain Division Rangers thanked Hoekstra and crew for saving their lives.

In 2008, Hoekstra transferred to the Air Force Reserve, accepting an opportunity with the 96th Flying Training Squadron at Laughlin AFB, Texas. He transferred to the 43rd FTS, Columbus AFB, Miss., in 2010, and then to the 39th FTS in 2011.

Among other activities slated for retirement, the colonel plans to build a church in New Braunfels, Texas, enjoy his new airline career, and spend time with his wife and five children.

"We are thankful to his wife, Gloria, and his family for supporting Deano through 25 years of faithful service," said 39th FTS Flight Commander Maj. John Camponovo. "Godspeed Deano!  Once a Cobra, always a Cobra!"

The Cobras will also recognize Lt. Col. John Demizio, whose retirement Friday marks the culmination of 26-plus years of military service.

One of the most experienced and respected T-6 instructor pilots at JBSA-Randolph, he has accumulated more than 6,000 flying hours over his career, 3,500 of which were earned in the T-6 Texan.  The command pilot also accumulated thousands of hours in the C-5 Galaxy, transporting critical resources to hot spots around the world. 

Commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps in 1993 upon graduation from the University of Miami, Demizio earned a bachelor of science in electrical engineering, which served him well in his early career as an avionics and electrical engineer on the A-10 and F 111 at McClellan Air Force Base, Calif., and later on the Joint Surveillance and Target Attack Radar System (JSTARs) at the Electronic Systems Center, Hanscom AFB, Mass.

But flying was his goal, and Demizio completed pilot training at Laughlin AFB, Texas, graduating with Class 99–12. His Regular Air Force assignments have included service at the 96th FTS and the 47th Operations Group at Laughlin AFB. He transitioned to the Reserve with 14 years of active duty service.

Following retirement, he will continue to fly for Southwest Airlines, and among other plans, he'll pursue becoming a Jeet Kune Do senior instructor.

Like his teammate, Demizio's career is laden with accomplishments and powerful memories, like working for Brig. Gen. David Petersen (retired) when he was 47th OG commander, learning to be an aircraft commander from Col. Dave Banholzer (who was the 14th presidential pilot and former commander of Air Force One), and flying instructor training sorties with any and all Cobras. But one that stands out as a monumental time in his career was flying the C-5, for the 22nd Airlift Squadron, to transport search and rescue teams to New York.  It was on Sept. 11, 2001, and his was the only mission, besides combat air patrol, cleared to fly in domestic airspace.

According to Camponovo, the Cobras will miss their teammate's skill and his humor.

"Special thanks goes to Jennifer and his family for their loving support throughout his career," Camponovo said. "We love you Johnny D!  You will be missed dearly!"

Camponovo, who considers both departing pilots to be "simply irreplaceable," called Hoekstra and Demizio Cobra Legends.

"I always looked up to these guys for their Airmanship, level of experience and passion for quality instruction. More importantly, they are just great people - humble, kind, loving family men and truly great friends," he added.