The Grampaw Pettibone Squadron was honored at their February 2020 meeting to have a return speaker, Colonel Gregory Raths, USMC (ret). The Colonel described his background, experience and motivating factors which led him to his military flying career and subsequent choice of direction after his retirement from the military. In addition to our speaker, the squadron was honored to present certificates of appreciation to members of the U.S. Navy who were recognized as Sailors of the Quarter. The Colonel was introduced to the audience by Squadron Public Affairs Officer, David Malmad.
The Colonel began his talk by sharing his father’s experience as a decorated WWII pilot flying the A-20 aircraft, a medium bomber. He flew at D-Day and other missions during the war. His father flew 65 combat missions and was the recipient of numerous awards and recognitions.
As a child growing up, our speaker determined he wanted to fly jets in the service. While in college, he joined the U.S. Marine Corps Officer Candidate Program in August, 1972 and after obtaining his degree in Business from Arizona State University in May 1975, he was commissioned a Second Lieutenant in the US Marine Corps.
His early flight training was in the Beechcraft T-34B, a propeller driven aircraft. Advancing to jet training, he was promoted to First Lieutenant on June 1, 1977 and received his Wings of Gold on June 24, 1977, graduating with honors.
Our speaker joined the Third Marine Aircraft Wing in August of 1977, and was assigned to Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 11. He flew the RF-4B Phantom II on photo reconnaissance from the USS Midway. As a First Lieutenant he served a tour between February – September 1979 and after promotion to Captain in August 1980, returned for a second tour from November 1980 – June 1981.
Sharing his experience as a military pilot, our speaker described eight events that were life threatening. His first, what he called a near-death experience, occurred when making a night landing to his carrier the USS Enterprise. The weather was cloudy, winds were high and the air flow at the approach end of the carrier would be turbulent and directed down towards the water. If the approaching aircraft does not have enough power, it can be carried below the correct approach path due to the wind and a collision with the carrier could occur. As he flew towards the carrier, the aircraft began to descend below the correct flight path. This required full power and full after burner to bring the aircraft back up to the correct position in order to land safely. Our speaker did not have enough time to consider what just occurred, since he was directed to prepare for a launch to complete three more landings that night. The remaining flights were without incident.
The Captain was promoted to Major in July 1986 before moving on to his next assignment which lasted until 1989. He transitioned to the F/A-18 Hornet in 1989 and returned to MAG 11 MCAS El Toro in April 1990. During a deployment in Iraq, another near-death experience occurred while flying the two-seat version of the Hornet. His job was to mark ground targets for other aircraft to complete the attack. This was his very first combat mission. As our speaker approached the target to release his rockets, his back-seater yelled, “Break Right, Break Right”, to avoid a Surface to Air Missile (SAM), which was launched at his aircraft. Once the first missile was avoided, this was followed by a maneuver to the left to avoid a second missile. A third missile shot was traveling straight at the aircraft when it appeared to lose speed and drop off.
Maj Raths was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel on May 1, 1992 and selected as squadron commander of the “Black Knights” VMFA-314 in April 1993. Commanding an F/A-18 Hornet Fighter Squadron was the best career move ever, according to our speaker. While on duty on the aircraft carrier, USS Abraham Lincoln, in the Persian Gulf, the squadron was called upon to support forces in Somalia. Completing additional combat missions during this assignment, the Colonel completed 75 combat missions, to surpass his father’s 65 mission experience in WWII.
In 1995, our speaker attended the National War College and acquired a Master of Science Degree in 1996. He began serving a tour in the Pentagon. While serving his tour Major Raths was nominated and selected for a leadership position in the White House Military Office. On January 1, 1999, Lt Col Raths was promoted to Colonel and was transferred in February 1999. At the end of his White House assignment he assumed command of Marine Aircraft Group 46, a composite air group at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, CA.
Colonel Raths’ son following in his father’s footsteps joined the service and became a Marine pilot. This was the fourth generation of the family to serve and both father and son served together on a few missions flying in the same aircraft.
The Colonel retired in 2004, flew from 2004-2007 as a first officer with Jet Blue Airways. Called upon to join a local company in Southern California as President, the Colonel left Jet Blue and for the next 10 years served with the company. Upon sale of the company in 2011, Col Raths became active in local civic organizations, elected as a Councilman in the City of Mission Viejo in 2016, again in 2018 and then appointed Mayor in 2019. The Colonel is running for Congress in the 45th Congressional District in the 2019 election.
In addition to our speaker, Grampaw Pettibone Squadron recognized Sailors of the Quarter from NWSSB. They were: Senior Sailor: MA1 Nicholas Merced; Junior Sailor: MA2 Patrick Myers; and Blue Jacket: MA3 Elise Flores. Sailors of the Quarter from Navy Munitions Command Pacific Conus West Division Unit Seal Beach were: Senior Sailor: MN1 Christian Quezada; Junior Sailor: MN2 Yanina Carrero; and Bluejacket: GM3 Wallace Garlington. Certificates of Appreciation and other gifts including beautiful plaques from the United States Automobile Association. In addition, the sailors were given gift certificates and coupons from the following local restaurants: Avila’s El Ranchito Mexican Restaurant, Chick-fil-A, Coaches Sports Grill, Finbars Italian Restaurant, Hennessey’s Tavern, The Crab Cooker (Tustin), California Pizza Kitchen (Rossmoor), Santa Fe Importers, and O’Malley’s On Main.
The Grampaw Pettibone Squadron wishes to thank Colonel Raths for his presentation and congratulate the Sailors of the Quarter for their achievements.