By Staff Sgt. Frank Casciotta
302nd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — After 32 years of Air Force service, nearly 20 deployments and close to 10,000 flying hours, including more than 1,000 combat hours, the 302nd Airlift Wing chief of aerial firefighting and C-130 aircraft commander retired during a ceremony here.
Lt. Col. Luke Thompson was sent off in the same fashion he led his career, humbly, with those who knew him best speaking of his achievements and character.
Lt. Col. Richard Pantusa, the 302nd Operations Group commander, spoke to Thompson’s work ethic, mission focus and service to others.
“Your humility is what impresses me the most,” said Pantusa, during the ceremony. “Globally, there is only about one or two degrees of separation between your influence and the MAFFS (Modular Airborne Fire Fighting System) mission. You’re the man I want to be like when I grow up.” Weeks before his retirement, Thompson was a featured speaker at the Aerial Firefighting Europe conference in France discussing MAFFS as a secondary military mission.
“You’ve planted seeds in all of us. Not many can say they haven’t learned something from you,” said Pantusa.
Though he did not speak at Thompson’s retirement, Col. James DeVere, the 302nd AW commander, said Thompson “is a subject matter expert in MAFFS and the entire C-130 mission set including instructing and evaluating. He leads through his example and is an absolute artist with the C-130. You just can’t find a better aviator.”
For his own part during the retirement, Thompson thanked his wife, Kristi, for her support throughout the years and acknowledged the difficulties associated being married to someone in his line of work. He also thanked his son for his support despite the struggles of being a military child and presented him with the American flag patch he wore on his uniform throughout his career.
He then went on to list by name from memory, every fellow aircrew member he had flown with during his numerous deployments “These are the people who trusted me to deploy with them to the other side of the world and do the harder stuff we do,” he said. “You guys are all, and always will be, very special to me because you trusted me. Thank you.”
Thompson went on to share some of his most memorable missions with the audience. Among them was his reflection on a time when he and his crew airlifted the flag-draped casket carrying the remains of a fallen Soldier.
“We left Afghanistan at the end of the day, transporting a casket containing a fallen Soldier,” he said. “We followed the sunset flying west. That sunset lasted forever. I will never forget that. It was the longest blood-red sunset I’ve ever seen.”
Thompson began his Air Force career in 1985 through the San Jose State University, San Jose, Calif. ROTC program. His flying career began with undergraduate pilot training at the 47th Flying Training Wing at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, in 1985.
He entered the Air Force Reserve in 1993 after seven years of active duty service and flew C-130 Hercules aircraft until his retirement.
Thompson concluded his comments by thanking the wing for the opportunity to serve.
“I will always be thankful that 32 years ago someone in the Air Force let me in and I got to do this,” he said. “This has been the biggest honor of my life –to serve the greatest country and greatest Air Force with the finest people.”