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ELY - Lt. Col. Craig Andrle has achieved what very few F-16 pilots ever have and now holds the highest number of combat hours flown in an F-16 in the U.S. Air Force.
On March 20, Andrle reached the milestone of flying 1,000 combat hours while serving as commander of the 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan.
To date, the Linn County native has flown a total of 1,070 combat hours, putting him atop the Air Force's list of F-16 pilots.
'That's an important distinction to make, that it is in the F-16, because people have more combat hours in other aircrafts. For an F-16 it's a lot,” Andrle said. 'It took four deployments to get there. It was a lot of time away from home and a big sacrifice from the family aspect of it, but it also meant that I had the opportunity to go do what I was trained to do.”
Andrle is one of four pilots with a rank up to lieutenant colonel and currently serving in the Air Force who have flown 1,000 combat hours in an F-16. He is also the only fighter pilot at Bagram Airfield to have done so.
'There are only a handful of active F-16 pilots who have had the mettle to reach this milestone. Perhaps more important than the number 1,000 is understanding how you get there,” Col. Jason Bailey said in an email to The Gazette. 'To fly the F-16 long enough to reach this achievement, a fighter pilot has to be exceptional. It means Lt. Col. Andrle kept flying the F-16 assignment after assignment. The Air Force only picks our very best pilots to do that.”
Andrle has served in the Air Force for 17 years and has completed two tours in Iraq and two in Afghanistan. He was deployed to the Balad Air Base in Iraq in both 2008 and 2009, then to the Kandahar Air Base in Afghanistan in 2012 and the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan from 2016 until last month.
Before joining the military, Andrle was raised in Ely with his sister Rene Tedrow by his parents Robert and Carol Andrle. He graduated from Prairie High School and attended the University of Iowa where he was a member of the Reserve Officers' Training Corps.
'We had no idea. He had never talked about being a pilot,” Carol Andrle said. 'He graduated with a degree in computer science so I assumed he was going to do a desk job.
The Andrle's are proud of their son's accomplishments in the Air Force and the leadership he has shown.
'He was always a leader. He has the ability to have people follow him,” Robert Andrle said. 'I always thought he would be a leader in whatever he chose to do.”
Craig Andrle is currently living at the Shaw Air Force Base in South Carolina with this wife Becky and four children, Ava, Ella, Tate and Beau. The family will soon be moving to Washington, D.C., where Craig Andrle will attend the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy as part of the Air Force's senior developmental education program.
' ... To go into combat enough times to fly 1,000 hours, you and your family have to be very strong to make it through the multiple deployments it takes to fly that many hours,” Bailey said. 'He and his family are incredible patriots. It really shows what an amazing family Craig and Becky have put together.”
Andrle said reaching 1,000 combat hours meant a lot to him.
'It means that I've had a lot of time to go do the mission that we trained to do every day and to have an opportunity to make a difference for the guys that are out on the ground.” he said.
The Air Force commended Andrle for his achievements and leadership as he gave up the command of his squadron last month.
'I've had the privilege of watching Lt. Col. Andrle since he was young lieutenant ... learning how to fly his first jet aircraft,” Bailey said. 'I am extremely proud to see him reach this point.
'We should all be proud of him.”
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