Former Marion man spends career in Air Force


John Dyck, formerly of Marion, is pictured in his U.S. Air Force uniform at the time of his retirement.

by Blake Spurney

John Dyck has fond memories of his time growing up in Harvey and Marion counties.

A farmer whose name he can’t remember used to work a field near his family’s residence with a John Deere 4020. As a young boy, Dyck would walk out into the field, and the farmer would let him ride around with him. The obsession with the tractor only grew when the farmer parked the tractor near his house.

So that tractor became my favorite tractor,” he said. “I loved that 4020. … I was all over that thing, sitting on it, playing, pretending.”

So powerful of a pull did that tractor have that Dyck, who now lives in Boise, Idaho, bought a refurbished 4020 six years ago that he keeps as a toy. Dyck always has been fascinated with mechanics. After his family moved to a farm south of Marion when he was 12, he used to look at the F-4 Phantoms flying low-flying training routes out of McConnell Air Force Base. One day he saw two of them flying together, and he got on top of the tractor he was riding and started waving at the planes.

One of them saw me and did a wing rock,” he said. “I thought man, that’s so cool.”

Dyck now knows that the planes were flying in tactical formation. After that experience, he started researching what it would take for him to reach his lifetime goal of becoming a fighter pilot. He ended up getting an appointment at the U.S. Air Force Academy, but he ran into a little trouble his first semester when he got placed into a 400-level French class. He had no background in the language, and the class wrecked his grade-point average.

I can do better than this,” he told himself at the time. “I’ll leave and get an education elsewhere.”

Because of his record at the Academy in other areas, the powers that be asked him to accept a four-year Reserve Officers’ Training Corps scholarship at Kansas State University. He graduated four years later with degrees in physics and electrical engineering.

Dyck then entered the Air Force and went into pilot training. He said he liked to tell people that joined the Air Force to get out of Kansas, then he got shipped to Vance Air Force Base in Enid, Oklahoma. While there, he earned his pilot wings, and then he went to Alamogordo, New Mexico for fighter training. He said the instruction taught pilots how to fly in formation and drop bombs.

There’s a lot of physics and mechanical type of stuff,” he said. “You have to learn how to dogfight.”

Dyck’s next stop took him to Luke Air Force Base in Arizona, where he learned to fly F-15s. The Cold War was still raging, and he was training to shoot down MiG-29s and Su-27s, the top fighters of Soviet Union.

At that time, nothing could compete with it,” he said about the F-15. “In fact, it was undefeated in aerial combat at that time. Nobody had ever shot own down.”

The F-15 has more than 100 confirmed kills in aerial combat with most of those coming from the Israeli Air Force.

Dyck said mission of the Air Force went through big changes after the first Gulf War in 1991. During the first war with Iraq, he was back in New Mexico teaching fighting maneuvers to a new batch of pilots. He said the Air Force didn’t send trainers into combat, and that hurt his career trajectory. Others with whom he trained got deployed to region. In fact, one of his former wingmen, Steve Tate, who went by the call name of “Tater,” was one of the first to shoot down an Iraqi aircraft during the night of Jan. 16-17.

Dyck later spent time in Iraq during Operation Pride Comfort, which were military operations to defend Kurdish refugees fleeing northern Iraq. That turned into Operation Northern Watch and Operation Southern Watch, which involved American pilots enforcing no-fly zones. He said he was asked to go with Special Forces troops into northern Iraq to teach them how to communicate with the Air Force when they needed help. He got to go to three of Saddam Hussein’s castles in the region. They had been bombed heavily, but he was able salvage a bunch of marble from a mountaintop castle that now is in his aquarium.

I had assigned to me a Kurdish bodyguard,” he said. “I have no doubt in my mind that this guy would give up his life for my safety. A really neat guy.”

Dyck retired as a lieutenant colonel in 2011 after spending 26 years in the military. He said he turned a promotion to colonel.

The Air Force owns you,” he explained. “You have no weekends. Every minute of your day is scheduled. You have no freedom, you really don’t.”

Dyck said chose Boise as home because he wanted to be close to mountains. He also went to back school to earn a degree in construction management from Boise State University. While there, he met a young student who identified herself as being from Kurdistan. His ears perked up, and he knew he had to talk to her. The woman had been born in Guam to parents evacuated out of northern Iraq in 1996. While Dyck was deployed to Turkey, part of his job was helping to coordinate that evacuation. He arranged helicopters to fly Kurds from Iraq to waiting 747s in Turkey. Her parents were among those he helped get out of the region. He showed her his scrapbook, and the woman’s father was in one of the pictures.

He was on my detail taking me around Iraq,” he said. “She was surprised. She wanted to take her scrapbook home and show it to her dad. We were going to get together and somehow never did.”

Dyck said he tried to get back to Newton twice a year to see his mother, Neva. He said he stayed in touch with a few people with whom he attended elementary school like Jeff Stauffer and John and Jerry Degrado.


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