During the recent FighterSweep trip to the Land of No Slack, “Stitch” was instrumental in arranging for a 142nd Fighter Wing jet to take part in our Oregon Air National Guard 75th Anniversary photo shoot. The “Redhawks” are a unit loaded with incredibly talented and experienced Eagle Drivers, and Stitch can trace his family’s proud history of service all the way back to World War I and the Lafayette Escadrille.
Growing up in Hawaii, Lt. Col. Nick Rutgers discovered, like most children, the deeper meaning of “The Aloha Spirit” — the gift of interacting in the natural world with boundless possibilities. This aptitude only nurtured his biggest childhood dream to a grander significance.
“I can’t remember wanting to do anything else besides being a pilot,” said Rutgers, “and if given the chance, to fly fighter jets.”
After graduating from the United States Air Force Academy in May of 2000, the trajectory of his flying career first took him to Okinawa, Japan, and later to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas, then eventually landing him here in Portland in 2012 with the 142nd Fighter Wing; all the while flying the F-15 Eagle fighter jet.
Yet Rutgers’ path toward becoming a military pilot did not inevitably begin at Camp Pendleton or the Air Force Academy. His family lineage is rich in service and sacrifice.
Rutgers’ grandfather fought in World War II as a member of the Marine Corps, and his father with the Army in Vietnam and later serving in the Hawaii National Guard. The love of flying and sense of service can be traced even further back, nearly 100 years ago when his great-grandfather, James Norman Hall, flew with the Lafayette Escadrille during World War I.
The Lafayette Escadrille was an all-volunteer squadron of American Airmen who fought with France prior to the U.S. entry in World War I. In total, more than 200 Americans were part of the squadron, and 68 members died in battle. On April 20, Rutgers will travel to Paris to take part in the 100th Anniversary ceremony of the Lafayette Escadrille and pay homage to those, like his great-grandfather, who helped build and maintain the nearly 235-year France-American alliance.