Jackson grad flying high to protect the skies over his hometown

By Dan Aznoff | Sep 15, 2017
Lt. Dan “Scooter” Schafer played the drums in the marching band before graduating from Jackson High School in 2008. He attended the Naval Academy and is is now stationed at the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island where he pilots an EA-18G Growler as part of an attack squadron responsible for electronic warfare missions that jams enemy radar and renders air defenses ineffective.

Lt. Dan Schafer was more concerned with the marching band formations when he was a drummer at Jackson High School a decade ago than when he was flying one of the most sophisticated aircraft in the Navy. Today, the 2008 alum pilots an EA-18G Growler as part of an Electronic Attack Squadron based on Whidbey Island.

“I like the flying aspect of my job. Flying is tranquil yet exhilarating at the same time,“ Schafer told The Beacon. “It’s an entirely different thrill than marching across the football field.”

Schafer plans to continue his career as a pilot when he fulfills his current hitch with the Navy. His career choice does not thrill his wife.

“She thinks it’s too dangerous,” he said with a sly smile. “We’ve all heard stories about how flying is safer than driving. Military aircraft have so many back-up systems that the only time she should really get nervous was if I were assigned to a combat zone.”

His latest deployment was part of a task force deployed to the South China Sea as a show of force to the communist regime in North Korea.

His wife, Alyssa, is from graduate Eastlake High School on the Sammamish Plateau. The couple met after they had both finished college. They were married after he completed flight school at the Naval Air Station on Whidbey Island.

The Mill Creek native is part of the Wizards attack squadron based at the base near Oak Harbor. The elite group of pilots is one of 14 electronic flight groups on Whidbey.

As members of one of the Navy’s squadrons with the newest aircraft platforms, Schafer and other VAQ-133 pilots are trained to engage in electronic warfare, one of the most important components of modern air combat, according to Navy sources.

Sailors’ jobs with the VAQ-133 are varied, according to Navy officials. Approximately 65 officers, 400 enlisted men and women, and 110 civilian contractors make up and keep all parts of the squadron running smoothly – the responsibilities include everything from maintaining airframes and engines to processing paperwork, handling weaponry and flying the aircraft.

“There was no ROTC at Jackson until my senior year,” Schafer recalled. “My band director, Ms. (Lesley) Moffat, was more influential to me during high school than almost any other teacher, except maybe Mr. Moore.”

Moore taught stats at Jackson. His classroom was plastered with mementos of his service, including Fly Navy banners and decals. The subliminal impact of the stickers influenced the young drummer to submit an application to the Naval Academy. His closest friend chose a similar route. He was accepted to the Air Force Academy and now flies C-130 cargo planes.

Moore and Moffat both wrote letters Schafer used as character references in his application to the military academy.

Lt. Dan sits at the controls of the EA-18G Growler, the fourth major variant of the F/A-18 family of aircraft that combines the proven Super Hornet platform with a sophisticated electronic warfare suite, complete with advanced receivers, jamming pods and satellite communications. The electronic warfare mission involves jamming enemy radar and communications systems to render air defenses ineffective.

Schafer said the Navy has taught him to be a responsible leader. He also believes the additional duties have made him a better sailor.

The pilot seat was the Jackson grad’s way of continuing the legacy started by his father, who was an Air Force pilot. Dan’s 25-year-old brother, Tyler, has followed in his big brother’s footsteps and now serves aboard a fast attack submarine stationed in Connecticut.

Their parents have moved away from Mill Creek since the boys left high school and now make their home in the California city of Palm Desert.

That has not diminished the older brother’s ties with his hometown.

“Being stationed on Whidbey makes it more likely I will attend my 10-year reunion next year, if I’m not deployed somewhere in the world,” he said. “If I go, I definitely will not walk back onto campus in my uniform. There is no way I want to stand out.

“I want people to remember me for what I was at Jackson. Those are the memories we all cherish.”

Lt. Dan—better known to his flight crew as Scooter—gained his first experience in leadership as part of the Timberwolves’ marching band. He said Moffat put him in charge of teaching “the ropes” to underclassmen.

“It was a small piece of responsibility,” Schafer said. “The team experience changed the way I looked at being part of the band. She entrusted me with the younger members of the band.

“That’s something that taught me about cooperation and working together for the greater good. I enjoy the people I am surrounded by every day because they are motivated and hard-working.”

The Navy pilot said he  enjoys giving back.

“Giving back to my community and my country provide me with a sense of pride,” Schafer said. “It allows me to contribute to this generation and generations to come.”

 

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