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French exchange pilot achieves multinational dream at Moody AFB

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Greg Nash
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs

Allured by the distant chopping of helicopter blades, a young French boy diverts his attention from his television screen to watch native pilots rescue stranded hikers in Southeast France.

Glancing back at his favorite show, he notices an American pilot navigating a similar airframe, causing him to wonder what it would be like to fly a ‘chopper.’

Through sheer determination, French air force Commandant Micka propelled himself to serve and fly for both nations.

As part of the 67th Helicopter Squadron “Pyrenees” from Cazaux Air Base, France, he was proud to “Fight and Save,” fulfilling the French air force helicopter community’s mantra. Now, he’s a part of Moody’s 41st Rescue Squadron to contribute to their motto.

“’So That Others May Live,’ is a [motto] I want to honor during my tenure here, and I’m proud to represent my country as the only current French exchange pilot in the [United States] Air Force,” Micka said. “I was very excited to join the 41st Rescue Squadron because of the mission similarities with my unit back home and also the United States’ and France’s rescue history together.

“I’ve seen the HH-60G Pavehawk throughout my deployments, and the ability to now fly one is special,” added Micka, who is the 41 RQS assistant director of operations and an HH-60 pilot. “It resembles and maneuvers a lot like my old airframe, the [French air force’s] EC-275 Caracal.”

According to Micka, in addition to the aircraft likeness, he relished the two nation’s lengthy experience and capabilities in performing in hostile environments and highlighted the 100th birthday of the nation’s being brothers in arms during World War I.

“I’ve always appreciated how the Americans aided France and also helped change the tide of the war,” Micka said. “Understanding the historic close relationship and similar mantras between these nations is very dear to me.”

Knowing his dedication of this symbolic relationship and his eagerness to learn to be a better pilot and wingman, one 41 RQS member spoke on how the unit has embraced Micka.

“[Micka] has proven, and continues to prove, he is an excellent ambassador for our French rotary wing partners,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Chris Richardson, 41 RQS commander. “He consistently, much like his predecessors before him, brings outstanding insight, credibility and experience to our squadron.  His interactions with the [combat search and rescue] community, more specifically, the 41 RQS, are instrumental in building a bigger, more holistic approach to how we conduct and execute our mission. 

“For as long as this partnership has been around, this squadron and our community continues to reap the benefits of experiencing how each respective partner and individual unit integrates into and provides capability to the joint fight,” Richardson added. “This exchange program allows USAF members to work with our French partners, while also allowing us to incorporate [Micka’s] expertise into our own programs.”

Throughout his career, Micka said he’s gratified to have flown over 2,000 flight hours, completed 650 missions in hostile territory and participated in 13 deployments, but nothing yet compares to his first save. 

“My first save was of a wounded Afghan child when I was a young co-pilot in this unit,” Micka said. “It was such an adrenaline rush and special moment for me. You don’t realize the impact of everything you’re accomplishing on a mission because you’re so in the moment. When you land and think about all the training you did to save someone’s life, it’s the best feeling in the world.”

Another great feeling for Micka was the ability to become a more proficient pilot during deployments. According to him, one aspect of accomplishing this doesn’t always involve maneuvering the controls in the cockpit.

 “There’s nothing like being [entrenched] in an international coalition environment to achieve one goal,” Micka said. “The opportunity to build relationships, share tactics and familiarize myself with the 30 nations I’ve deployed alongside with has been great.”

Micka credits this exposure of different nation’s aircraft and pilots for helping him prepare for his biggest challenge thus far.

“Overcoming the language barrier and improving my minimal English skills has been one of the hardest tests for me since my arrival [at Moody],” Micka said. “Over time, I’ve sufficiently progressed through the process by getting accustomed to hearing different accents in flight and in the simulator, reading emails and talking with my comrades.”

As the 41 RQS ADO, Micka recently finished his HH-60 qualification training. In the near future, he hopes to accomplish his main desire as part of the exchange program.

“One of the biggest purposes of the program is to deploy to save lives and brag about your combat experience,” Micka said. “It’s been my favorite part of the job since I’ve started. I’m doing the same mission I love, just in a different unit.”

Micka added that the program is so much more than one pilot getting to experience another country's tactics and training. According to him, it’s also about being able share what he’s learned.

“I hope to take my experiences back home to better help the 67th Helicopter Squadron,” Micka said. “My next goal is be their squadron commander and overall serve in the Air Force for as long as possible. Being open-minded and embracing challenges never mind helped me succeed. It hasn’t been an easy process, but it’s all definitely been worth it.”