Sunday, December 17, 2017

Lt. Col. Matt Clausen: In command on Air Force Two

Lt. Col. Matt Clausen flies in rarefied air of transporting VP Pence, first lady and other high-level passengers

Lt. Col. Matt Clausen from Brazil, Clay County, Indiana poses at the foot of Air Force Two with Vice President Mike Pence from Columbus, Bartholomew County, Indiana.

Today’s 114th anniversary of Orville and Wilbur Wright’s first flight near Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, finds former Brazil resident Lt. Col. Matt Clausen commanding a squadron that flies Vice President Mike Pence’s Air Force Two and some of the nation’s other highest-ranking officials on governmental trips across the globe. Clausen’s command transports those officials at heights, speeds and distances the Wright Brothers could only imagine.

Clausen, 40, in April took command of the 99th Airlift Squadron, a part of the 89th Airlift Wing at Joint Base Andrews outside Washington, D.C. The 99th Airlift squadron conducts Special Air Missions. 

“Our mission at the 89th, and specifically the 99th, is to transport dignitaries,” Clausen said.  

Its top five customers?
Vice President Pence, first lady Melania Trump, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph F. Dunford.

Both the human cargo and the missions are of utmost significance.

“Our goal is to enable world diplomacy through the transportation of our nation’s senior leaders.” Clausen said.

“So, when you think about it, we are enabling diplomatic talks to take place, negotiations to be made, deals to be brokered. ... We are literally moving them [government officials] all over the world in order to facilitate the negotiations and meetings.”

Clausen is a 1996 Northview High School graduate and a 2000 graduate of Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. He also holds a master’s of aeronautical science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.

His father, Jim Clausen, is a long-time Van Buren High School band director and former music, physical education teacher at Staunton. He also served as Northview assistant principal for 16 years before retiring. Clausen’s mother, Becky, taught at Van Buren elementary for 34 years before her retirement.

Clausen said he developed an interest in flying when he and a good friend, Jordan Brown, as teenagers spent time at the Indiana Air National Guard Base in Terre Haute where Brown’s dad was a member of the 181st Fighter Wing of the Guard. Brown and Clausen had always loved flying, Clausen said.

“Jordan was flying before he was able to drive,” said Clausen, whose appetite to fly was born through this friendship, and an interest in the Air Force soon followed.

He was an ROTC member while at Rose-Hulman and was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force the day before his college graduation. He was originally stationed at Scott Air Force Base in Belleville, Illinois, where he acquired his private pilot license and later received military pilot training at Columbus, Mississippi.

His continued training and education, if listed, would take up most of this story. Suffice it to say, Clausen, at a young age, has had a stellar career with the training to back it. He has been hand-selected for many of his missions and appointments. He is also a command rated pilot qualified in three variants of Gulfstream aircraft assigned to the 99th Airlift Squadron.

He began his career predominantly as a line pilot, where his primary duty was to fly through the Middle East and Asia —often on grueling 30- to 45-day missions. While stationed at the 4th Airlift Squadron at McChord AFB, Washington, he flew C17A Globemaster III’s and executed a combat airlift mission in support of operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

He became a part of a five-member crew, Vijay 10, and in 2003 received the prestigious Clarence Mackay Trophy presented by the National Aeronautic Associations and the U.S. Air Force’s Distinguished Flying Cross for heroic service in the war in Iraq. The five-member crew led a key portion of the main supporting action for operation Iraqi Freedom called Operation Northern Delay. On the first night of the coalition’s ground campaign, his crew flew in the initial airdrop of 1,000 soldiers over Bashur, Iraq, which opened up the northern front and was the largest formation airdrop since World War II’s airdrop. It is deemed the most demanding C-17A mission in aircraft’s history and was the first time personnel were dropped in combat from the C-17A.

“The award is presented annually,” according to the official U.S. Air Force website, “for the most meritorious flight of the year and for gallantry, intrepidity, unusual initiative and resourcefulness, and achievement of outstanding results with unusual presence of mind in either combat or non-combat conditions.”  The original trophy is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, bearing the names of all of its recipients.

Today,  the 99th Airlift Squadron’s sensitive missions under his command have national and international consequences. The missions are conducted using three C-37A and three C-37 B aircraft. The C-37A and C-37B are military versions of the Gulfstream V and 550. Earlier this year three C-20Bs (Gulfstream IIIs) were retired from the 99th and Air Force inventory.

Just like Air Force One, Air Force Two is not one specific plane but instead is a radio call sign for planes carrying the Vice President.

So, how does someone from the Wabash Valley, and more specifically, Brazil, end up flying the vice president of the United States, the first lady and other high-echelon government officials all over the world?

Clausen said it isn’t something he dreamed he would be doing, but hard work and perseverance made it possible.

“Looking back, I never dreamed I would be flying the people I do and flying the aircraft that I do. ... It has been a phenomenal career, and I’ve been very fortunate. ... More than anything, it is hard work and believing in yourself no matter what you are given,” Clausen said

”I think there are multiple ways you can achieve your goals. ... Keep options available, doors open and just continue to work hard and chip away at what you ultimately want.”

Orville and Wilbur Wright probably never dreamed their perseverance and “chipping away” to fly would take the world as far as it has come or that there would be such planes as the vice president flies on — or that they would fly all over the world allowing “diplomatic talks to take place, negotiations to be made and deals to be brokered” among the nations of the world.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Wilbur Wright was also a Hoosier, being born in the small town Millville in far eastern Indiana.

Both the Wrights’ and Clausen’s stories illustrate that perseverance and hard work can take you as high as the sky — and beyond  — no matter if you are from a sophisticated big city or a cozy small town in the Hoosier state.

Story and photo gallery ➤

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