Local San Antonio honorary commanders take flight

  • Published
  • By Jet Fabara
  • 340th Flying Training Group Public Affairs

On April 26, 2024, a significant milestone was reached in a series of military experiences facilitated through the 340th Flying Training Group Honorary Commander program. Three honorary commanders had the unique opportunity to participate in a T-38C Talon familiarization flight.

The 340th FTG honorary commander program aims to bridge the gap between business and civic leaders, who lack military backgrounds, so they can learn about the critical air education and training mission carried out by the 340th FTG. The three 340th FTG honorary commanders who experienced these flights were: Steve Ison, Rebecca Creek Distillery founder and CEO; Christopher Fairbank, Executive Management professional, coach, and speaker; and Emma Faye Rudkin, founder and executive director of Aid the Silent, Miss San Antonio 2015, and Miss San Antonio 2017.

“My familiarization flight was an unforgettable experience. It provided me with a unique insight into the rigorous training that our Air Force pilots undergo. The professionalism and skill demonstrated by my pilot during the flight was truly impressive and inspiring,” said Fairbank. “It reinforced my admiration for the dedication and commitment of our military personnel.”

Before they could experience the flight, all three honorary commanders underwent pre-flight requirements that involved a medical exam, physiology training, and ejection seat training. For Rudkin, the pre-flight involved a little more preparation, considering she was the group’s first deaf honorary commander.

“It was very nerve-wracking wondering if I would even get cleared for the T-38 flight. Two years ago, I was the hometown hero for the Thunderbirds and was not able to get cleared for a flight, which left me disappointed,” Rudkin said. “However, this group was determined, and I was able to be cleared for the flight by doctors at JBSA-Randolph.”

Part of the process for Rudkin involved coming up with multiple forms and signs of communication, to include a lot of practice beforehand with her pilot, Col. Kyle Goldstein, former 340th FTG commander. Additionally, the Aircrew Flight Equipment specialists at the 435th Flying Training Squadron even installed bigger headsets over Rudkin’s hearing aids to prevent feedback and ensure she could understand her pilot.

During their flight, they all experienced an intense mission of surface attacks, which involved deliveries of simulated bombs while flying at more than 435 miles per hour close to the ground. They also experienced a series of Basic Fighter Fundamental maneuvers, commonly referred to as “dog fighting,” according to Goldstein.

After being inducted in December 2022, the honorary commanders were introduced to a variety of 340th FTG training-specific experiences, such as the 433rd Training Squadron and their basic military training mission at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas, as well as the missions of the 39th Flying Training Squadron and Undergraduate Flying Training program at JBSA-Randolph.

“The overall experience with the 340th Flying Training Group has been incredibly enlightening and rewarding. I have gained a profound appreciation for the dedication, professionalism, and skill of our Air Force personnel,” said Fairbank. “The opportunity to witness firsthand the training and operations of our pilots and new airmen has given me a new perspective on the critical importance of their work.”

“Our U.S. military is tough and full of amazing people. I did not grow up with anyone in the military, so it was a pretty foreign concept to me. This educated me on the history and operations of JBSA-Randolph,” added Rudkin. “I know I have gained lifelong friends.”

Ison, Fairbank, Rudkin, and Jason Gillman, executive vice president of The Gillman Companies, will conclude their time as honorary commanders in December 2024.

“I have taken away great experiences with the program. I really enjoyed getting to experience different things on the bases, the ‘VIP back-stage’ access has been amazing and meeting a lot of the great leaders on base,” added Ison. “I am really honored to be able to participate in such a great program and would recommend it to any business leader in the future.”