US Air Force exchange officer soars with partners down under

  • Published
  • By Petty Officer 2nd Class Jeanette Mullinax
  • Media Center - Japan

When Maj. Thomas Larner commissioned in the U.S. Air Force, he knew he wanted to be a part of the fighter community. What he didn’t know was where that dream would take him.

“I remember attending my first air show in Philadelphia as a young boy and thinking, ‘man, I want to do that someday,’” Larner said. “I fell in love with fighters and pursued that dream. Now, I’m serving as a weapon systems officer in Australia flying (F/A-18F) Super Hornets.”

Larner is serving with the Royal Australian Air Force No. 1 Squadron, based at RAAF Base Amberley, Australia, as part of the U.S. Air Force military personnel exchange program. The program allows service members the opportunity to integrate into military units of foreign allies through a one-for-one exchange of personnel.

“The goal of the exchange program is to build those relationships, learn each other’s capabilities, learn each other’s family values, and when it comes to the jet, learn each other’s tactics,” Larner said.

Through mutual understanding of allied forces’ procedures, program participants increase each host nation’s ability to perform coalition operations with global partners. During a visit to Australia, U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. David L. Goldfein emphasized the significance of the unique partnership of Australia and the U.S.

“We are committed to maintaining this close relationship that we've had for over a hundred years now,” Goldfein said. “It is important for us to ensure that we stand together in preserving access to the global commons and our ability to operate where and when we need to.”

While the exchange program opens international doors for Airmen to develop professionally, Larner described how a tour in Australia also impacts a service member’s personal life.

“When we found out that we were going to Australia, my wife and I, along with the kids, went out and celebrated,” Larner said. “It's a journey to take your family and uproot them, especially taking your children out of schools, and moving to a whole new country.”

Although Australia and the U.S. share a common language, Larner and his family have picked up slight differences through communicating with the locals.

“Every couple days I hear a new Australian phrase that catches me off guard,” Larner said. “I have picked up the key term of ‘no worries.’ It’s learning every day.”

As the Larner family has made the most of Australia on land, Larner has also spread his wings as a versatile asset within the fighter community.

Starting his career as an F-15E Strike Eagle weapon systems officer, his assignment to the Australian Defence Force’s “Fighting First” 1 SQN has allowed him to fly an aircraft that he would not normally be able to in the U.S. Air Force. The F/A-18F Super Hornet entered service with the U.S. Navy in 2001 and was later established as the RAAF’s main fighter aircraft in 2010 when 1 SQN was declared the first RAAF F/A-18F operational squadron.

A previous tour with the U.S. Air Force 390th Electronic Combat Squadron stationed Larner at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, where he served alongside the Navy’s Electronic Attack Squadron 132. He accredits his experience flying E/A-18G Growlers there with establishing him as an exchange officer candidate serving in Australia.

With a partnered military alliance of more than 100 years, Larner notes the common goals of Australia and the U.S. have made it easy for the two nations to grow together tactically.

“The Australian Defence Force is a very elite force, very smart and very talented group of aviators,” he said. “To work with them has been a great honor.”