Bryce Aubuchon’s career as a naval aviator has given him a front row seat for some of the world’s most fascinating and heart-breaking events. Aubuchon became a commissioned naval officer in 2006, earning his naval aviator wings in 2008. His first deployment saw him flying counterdrug operations in Central and South America.
“We were stationed in El Salvador and covered various areas of the South Pacific and Caribbean. Our missions would typically last from 10-12 hours and would cover thousands of miles of open ocean,” he says.
The work included tracking drug running go-fasts, which he explains are speedboats used by the cartels for transporting large quantities of drugs quickly up the coast, and self-propelled semi-submersibles, or homemade submarines.
“In six months, our squadron worked with the coast guards to seize more than $80 million worth of trafficked narcotics.”
On Jan. 12, 2010, Aubuchon’s aircrew was on a two-hour standbyto- launch when a magnitude 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. The devastating quake killed 316,000 people, injured another 300,000 and left a million people homeless.
“We were launched mostly uncertain as to where we were going or what exactly had happened,” says Aubuchon. “We were the first military aircraft on the scene and spent our time using our infrared equipment on board to locate survivors buried in rubble and assessing damage.”
Aubuchon says for the next 12 days, the surveillance provided search and rescue assistance to ground forces and imagery to the Pentagon. While he is proud of the part he was able to play in the rescue efforts, he says the scene was unforgettable.
“It was humbling … seeing the impact of such a devastating event,” he says. “We saw large groups of people literally sleeping on blankets on a soccer field because they had nothing else nor anywhere else to go. There are certain images that are tough to get out of your head.”
Aubuchon graduated from Southeast Missouri State University in 2005. He majored in mass communication with emphasis in public relations and a minor in English.
“Yeah, my military career really doesn’t directly result from my major at Southeast,” he says. “But my experience at the University taught me a great deal both in accountability and leadership.”
Aubuchon says his background also helped him as he served as his squadron’s public affairs officer. He has also published articles in national military publications.
“The skills I learned at Southeast allowed me to do so without compromise. I will always be thankful for the experiences in Grauel Building, the professors who molded me and the fellow students I worked with. In those regards, Southeast is second-to-none.”
Another experience he is thankful for is meeting his wife Katie.
“We knew each other through a mutual friend when I was in flight school in Corpus Christi, Texas, and became close friends. When I returned from my first deployment, she was there waiting for me when my plane pulled in. We were married in October 2010.”
In 2011, Aubuchon deployed to the Middle East. He is currently stationed in Shaikh Isa Air Base in Bahrain. He has logged more than 70 combat hours over Iraq.
“We provide airborne surveillance to ground forces, locating threats like IEDs and possible ambushes,” he says.
He had the distinction of flying the last mission over Iraq before the United States withdrew from military operations.
“It was important to all of us as we escorted the last patrols of Iraq into Kuwait following the removal of allied forces,” he says. “The mission had become much less threatening over the past several years, but we would be interrupted with indirect ground fire. There were situations that were still quite dangerous.
Aubuchon says he has mixed feelings about the withdrawal itself.
“For any job in the military, you do your best and hope that it’s good enough. When we left, we had mixed feelings about the country’s well being but were confident the U.S. did everything it could. The rest is up to them.”
He continues supporting allied forces in the Arabian Sea, the Straits of Hormuz and the Gulf of Oman, conducting surveillance and escorting aircraft carriers through the straights. His current location and the frequent discussions of tensions in the news haven’t escaped his attention.
“There is a lot of talk in the news about possible threats of attack, and we realize that if any of that were to materialize, we’d be right here in front of it. It’s a proud yet humbling thought.”
Once his current deployment wraps up, he will head to Pensacola, Fla., to serve as a primary flight instructor to recently commissioned naval flight officers in their first aviation school on their way to earning their wings as naval aviator.
“I’ll be instructing students in navigation, formation flying, aerobatics, landing pattern, emergencies and all aspects of military aviation. For most students, this will be their first exposure.”
Aubuchon will spend three years in Pensacola as flight instructor before picking up new orders and moving again. Pensacola will be his seventh location in six years with the Navy. During his already eventful career, he says becoming a patrol plane instructor has been the most memorable.
“It’s a designation that’s given only to select pilots in a squadron. I train pilots new to our squadron on our aircraft, our tactics during missions and various emergency scenarios.”
After qualifying as a patrol plane commander, a two-year process, those selected for instructor pilot continue on a six-month syllabus Aubuchon describes as both challenging and rewarding.
“You have to keep the aircraft in safe operations at all times, even during multi-engine out scenarios,” he explains. “Not everyone who begins the training finishes, and I have to say the pride that comes with being an instructor pilot in addition to the responsibility has been the highlight of my career so far.”
So after seven locations and countless missions including humanitarian efforts, wars and counter-drug operations, where is he going once he gets home?
“Katie and I are heading to Disney World, a place we both love. It’s going to be incredible being on a shore-based duty for the next three years. And, she and I are planning on starting a family soon.”