TRANSIT CENTER AT MANAS, Kyrgyzstan -- After 32 years of service, both on active duty and in the Air National Guard, a pilot here recently flew his 100th combat sortie in support of Operation Enduring Freedom.
Although it isn't uncommon for a pilot to reach 100 combat sorties, Blake said the timing is what makes this milestone special.
"One hundred combat sorties after an 11 or 12 year campaign isn't totally unusual," he said. "What's unique for me is that my first combat sortie didn't start until I was well into my career nearly 10 years ago in 2004 -- at age 45. To have my last one here at age 55, for me it's a milestone. I can take that and put it away and maybe tell my grand kids about it someday, that's why it's unique."
Blake, a Wakefield, N.H., native said he had a unique Air Force career spanning 3 decades.
"I'm a returned to active duty guy; We're affectionately known as re-treads, like taking an old tire and putting new rubber on it," Blake said with a laugh. "I was on active duty and then I separated from the Air Force for six or so years; then came back to the Air National Guard, and did that for 13 years. I had my first opportunity to come here, separated from the Guard and was offered the opportunity to come back on active duty. So I've been in the Air Force three different times."
Blake is currently serving on active duty, but when he was in the Air National Guard, he was a military and civilian pilot.
"I've had the opportunity to do that (military flying) and civilian flying at the same time, back and forth," Blake said. "It's been a very rewarding career, a very busy career. Overshadowing the whole thing is a love for this country, it's very simple."
His passion for flying began at a young age.
"My mother took me to Spain in a plane pretty close to this one (a KC-135) a long time ago -- that's when I fell in love with aviation," he said. "From that point I wanted to be an airline pilot, a military pilot, I wanted to do whatever it took to get up in the air. I went through the military for my Air Force training and fell in love with military flying."
Although he plans on retiring from his Air Force career within a year, he said he'll most likely go back to being an airline pilot.
"I'm going to stay home and be with my wife and fly the 'line,' as they call it in the airlines," he said. "It's not quite as exciting as this, not quite as demanding, but it's good just the same."