East Grand Forks, Minn., graduate will be pilot for vice president, other top officials
GRAND FORKS, N.D. - Lt. Col. Tim Parker, a 1988 graduate of East Grand Forks Senior High and a tanker pilot at Grand Forks Air Force Base, soon will be flying Vice President Joe Biden around the world. As well as First Lady Michelle Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"One of the customers would be Biden and a few other high-profile people," he said of his selection to be part of the 89th Airlift Wing, the Air Force unit tasked with flying around the president, veep and the rest of the top people in American government.
"It's exciting stuff," he said Thursday, adding with a laugh: "I think the toughest part will be finding a hockey program for the kids to play in."
It was a hockey scholarship that took Parker to the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., two decades ago.
But after playing two years, shoulder injuries forced him to concentrate on being a pilot and his Air Force career.
"I spent most of my time in California flying KC-10s, the military version of the DC-10," he said.
He left the Air Force after nine years and flew commercially for Northwest. He now is on military leave from Delta, after re-upping in the Air Force to complete his 20 years. Two years ago, he and his wife, Becky (Wadholm), also a Senior High graduate, moved back to their hometown with their two boys, who now are 12 and 15 and rink rats.
Parker is flying KC-135 air-refueling tankers with the 319th wing at Grand Forks Air Force Base and has 16½ years in the Air Force.
Parker hasn't flown the C-32, the military version of the Boeing 757 airliner used for Air Force Two. "I've just been on one time for a quick tour and then off," he said. "That will be part of my training."
He was selected for an interview for the 89th Airlift Wing, through the Air Force's process, without any civilian or political input.
It does feel like an honor to be selected, Parker admitted. "It is kind of a neat program. I've got a few friends flying there at the 89th Air Wing at Andrews Air Force Base."
The pilots who fly President Barack Obama also are part of the 89th Wing, and there are several aircraft used by the president, mainly the military version of a Boeing 747. Sometimes, the president might use the C-32. Whichever one the president is on becomes Air Force One for that flight.
"But I won't be flying those missions," Parker said. "It depends on who is actually on board the aircraft."
In addition to the vice president, first lady and secretary of state, Parker also will fly Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen.
He had some experience doing that: He flew Gen. Richard Myers, then-chairman of the Joint Chiefs, to Asia in 2005.
That he had lots of hours and experience flying the big KC-10s, which haul twice as much as the KC-135s, probably made him "competitive" to get the new assignment flying the big C-32s, Parker said.
He has more than 5,000 hours flying, most of it with the Air Force, but including about 500 hours with Northwest and other commercial airline companies. He's refueled lots of aircraft while flying high over the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq.
"I'm one of the more experienced pilots in the Air Force. All the guys in this unit are high-time guys, a lot of flight experience."
He was interviewed in October, before it was known who would be the next president and vice president.
"It was really independent of the election," he said. No political issues were part of the interview process, just his professional experience and getting to know what kind of pilot and person he was, Parker said.
The new job was referred to as "DV Airlift," as in "Distinguished Visitors," he said.
When Biden's on board, the plane is called Air Force Two. When the first lady or other VIPs are riding, it will have another name.
And there are other aircraft flown by the 89th wing. Like with the president, whatever aircraft Biden is on automatically becomes Air Force Two for that flight, Parker said.
He will get even more flight time on his new job, no doubt, because he's spending lots of his time in management duties at Grand Forks Air Force Base, he said.
Next month, the Parkers will go house-hunting in the D.C. area. Military housing is an option, but they hope to find a private home in Virginia or Maryland.
He will begin training in March, and his family will join him after school ends.
Despite the new job close to the White House, his pay remains the same as it is at the Grand Forks base, he said.
But it will be a new world, Parker said, and a new mission that will include learning the protocol of dealing with some of the most powerful people in the world.
"There is several weeks of training for handling customers of that nature," he said.