A tradition of U.S. military aviator service continued Oct. 26 when Ensign Gerald Batchelder received his Wings of Gold during Training Air Wing FIVE’s winging ceremony at Naval Air Station Whiting Field.
One of 25 flight students to be designated Naval, Marine, or Coast Guard aviators during the event, Batchelder continues a family legacy of military service in flight that began with his grandfather, also called Gerald, and was followed by his father, Capt. Bret C. Batchelder, who served as the guest speaker for the ceremony.
TRAWING-5 serves as the training site for all Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard helicopter pilots and wings approximately 600 new aviators each year. The winging ceremonies occur about every two weeks, but this is one of the very few times that the guest speaker has been fortunate enough to pin the wings on his child.
Capt. Batchelder, who has been selected for Rear Adm., is immensely proud of the achievements of all the aviators who earned their designation as the culmination of their initial training.
“You will remember this day as long as you live,” he said to the students before they came up to the stage. “What you have gone through took an impressive amount of dedication and perseverance. You are joining an incredible legacy that preceded you. You stand on the shoulders of giants, and you have earned your place beside them. Stand tall and stand proud!”
The idea of standing on the legacy that precedes you is very apt for the Batchelder family. The elder member of the three aviators was a B-52 pilot during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He was in a ready status for much of the crisis and was in the air during President John F. Kennedy’s famous speech. Although he only flew for seven years before becoming a commercial pilot, he passed a love for the military on to his son.
Upon graduation from South Dakota State University Batchelder pondered what his career options were and remembered how much his father enjoyed his time in service. Coupled with an advertisement for officer candidacy that featured an F-14 Tom Cat, he decided “That’s what I want to do.” He was commissioned through the Aviation Officer Candidate School, received his initial flight training at NAS Whiting Field and earned his wings as a strike fighter pilot.
With more than 25 years in Naval aviation, Batchelder has deployed on four different carriers advancing from junior officer to department head to squadron executive and commanding officer to Carrier Air Wing Commander. His career has seen him supporting operations Desert Shield, Desert Storm, Southern Watch, Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. It is a distinguished career that encompasses more than 5,000 flight hours and more than 1,000 carrier landings as a strike fighter pilot. The stories he brought home influenced his son’s career path much as his was influenced by his father’s.
“I’ve been around it all my live. I’ve seen how much he enjoyed the military, and I’ve seen grandpa’s pictures of him with his aircraft,” Ensign Batchelder stated. “It was pretty impressive – a chance to see the world and be a world class pilot.”
The younger Gerald attended Georgetown University where he played football for a couple of years before deciding to move on to Old Dominion University. He also commissioned through AOCS and initially studied at NAS Corpus Christi before coming to NAS Whiting Field for helicopter training. With his initial studies behind him, he will soon transfer to Atsugi, Japan to learn how to fly the MH-60R.
Looking at the careers his son and grandson have carved for themselves the senior Gerald stated he is, ”very proud” of what they have accomplished.
“They have exceeded my career,” he said emotionally.
While there may be some doubt about that statement, he has certainly served as the lynchpin of service to country that encompasses another member of the family as well. Nathan O’Dea, Capt. Batchelder’s nephew, is due to enter OCS in two weeks with intentions to fly as well.
Although it is a running joke in the family that “flying is genetic now”, for Capt. Batchelder, the importance of the legacy isn’t about a desire to fly or to be in the military, but about a desire to be of service to the United States.
“We live in the greatest country the world has ever known. Just to serve our great nation is pretty awesome.”