Father, son share A-10 pilot legacy

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Alexis Millican
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs
Already anxious about the first day of high school football practice, a young junior donned his gear and was calmed as he looked to the sidelines to see his father there watching. For the junior, a life of uncertainty and unfamiliarity was something he was used to. The next day his father, an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot, would lead a squadron of 48 A-10's on a deployment.

Nearly a decade later, the young man traded in his football gear for a flight suit.

The then-anxious football player is now Lt. Col. Ryan Haden who decided to follow in his father's footsteps by joining the U.S. Air Force and becoming an A-10 pilot. He now commands the 74th Fighter Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

"My dad is a builder, of both things and men," said Ryan Haden. "I honestly believe there is no task that he cannot accomplish. He is my mentor and my friend, simply true to his words his entire life. ... He to me is the epitome of a leader of men.

"People would pull me aside at social events and tell me what an honor it was to have worked for, served under or be led by my father," he added. "To me, there's nothing better than to teach and lead people. In my mind, I wanted to be a leader and to do whatever I could to earn the type of respect that my father had."

Ryan Haden said he grew up with a father who demonstrated leadership in a way that made him want to emulate him.

"I'm very proud of my son and of what he has become," said retired Col. Robert Haden. "He was at my change of command, and now I can be at his change of command."

Ryan Haden took command of the 74th FS on Nov. 1, 2013. He says watching his father lead has helped to get him to where he is today.

Robert Haden added that through both his and his son's careers they have gained many mutual friends, including many pilots Ryan Haden eventually ran into who flew with his father.

"My first commander in Korea had been a lieutenant for my dad back when he was the squadron commander in Korea," said Ryan Haden.

Now, after nearly a decade of retirement, Robert Haden continues to show his support for his son.

"My dad pinned my lieutenant colonel rank on me," said Ryan Haden. "As I've gone through the ranks from basic pilot wings ... to command pilot wings I always get his sterling silver wings he wore in the mail."

Not only did Ryan Haden get to wear his father's pilot wings, but at 14 years old he also got to be a part of his final flight in Korea.

"I've hosed my dad down at a few of his fini flights," said Ryan Haden. "They handcuffed him to the ladder of the A-10 [in Korea] and we hosed him down."

The elder Haden added that final flight traditions have changed throughout the years, but the A-10 pilots continue to participate in different ways.

During a recent visit, Robert Haden was also given the opportunity to relive some fond memories in an A-10 simulator and fly once again. He said he was able to take off, land and shoot the gun, but all the new technology was something he was not use to.

Now, with nearly two decades between Robert Haden's retirement and today, both Airmen agree the aircraft remains mostly the same and the A-10 community continues to grow.