It was almost 40 years ago when the Williams AFB, Arizona Daedalian “Willie” Flight #82 began to give an award to each graduating class of new F-16 Fighter Pilots at Luke Air Force Base (LAFB) (near Phoenix) a highly and much cherished “Leadership” trophy.
NOTE: Click on any photographs to see them in full (high) resolution on a separate page.
The Training staff would vote for the student who displayed the greatest leadership qualities. When that LAFB F-16 VIPER training program was transferred to Holloman AFB (HAFB) near Alamogordo, NM, the pleasant duty of presenting each class’s Daedalian Leadership Award fell upon the El Paso, Texas Daedalians’ Flight 24.
The below 3:12 minute long video gives a glimpse of the F-16 Viper training program, which began at Luke AFB, AZ, and is now carried on at Holloman.
All members of El Paso Flight 24 are long-time FASF members, which is why the FASF posts each of those HAFB Viper Graduation Ceremonies right here, whenever possible.
This post’s headline above refers to the two amazing coincidences that took place at each of the last two graduations at Holloman: The most recent one was on August 20th, and before that, on May 21st of this year.
A few weeks ago the honored awardee of the Leadership prize was a new female fighter pilot, Captain Nicole L. “Clump” Palyok (Below) – – – Go to the end of the post to read Captain Palyok’s short biography.*
Flight 24 had awarded that same achievement trophy to its very first female fighter pilot over five (5) years ago; Lt. Claire “Harry” Bieber. The now Captain Bieber is only the second part of the event’s coincidences. The most astounding component of the coincidences began with what actually took place last May when the top Leader graduate was Captain Mark “GEF3” Palyok. (Below)
Were they brother and sister? No, rather a husband and wife. And, after their graduation, both will be stationed in Japan – – – and at the same location: Misawa Air Base.
Of course, the odds of this happening are beyond minuscule, but it did take place. And your webmaster was privileged to witness this amazing coincidence unfold.
The other astounding small-world coincidence concerning these two female Fighter Pilots is that your Webmaster sat next to Lt. Colonel Jim Hayward and his wife during the 311th TFS graduation dinner just four weeks ago.
When I mentioned to Colonel Hayward that there was only one other female that had been selected as a graduating squadron’s top leader – – – and that that award had been presented by me five years ago. The Colonel inquired about that female awardee’s name.
I said it was Claire Bieber.
He was quite surprised. Not only did he know her, but he said, “She was my ‘wingman’ in Afghanistan!“
The Colonel then went on to assert that she was the finest, a ‘wingman’ who was among the best pilots he’d experienced, one that he knew always “had his back” . . . in short, “She was great!”
So, without further ado, let’s see the characters involved in these two coincidences (follow the link above to see all about Capt. Bieber).
Last May 21st was when Captain Mark Palyok was awarded the Daedalian Leadership Trophy by long-time FASF member and current Daedalian Flight 24 Captain, Colonel Alan Fisher:
And now, let’s pick up the next Palyok event, Here, below, are the photos from that Graduation:
* Nicole grew up in an Air Force family moving around her entire life. Her grandpa flew cargo in Vietnam, her dad flew the F-15C fighter, and her brother is a B-1 pilot stationed at Ellsworth SD right now.
So Nicole has 3 generations of pilots in the family which is “pretty awesome.”
She went to college at the University of Virginia where she got a BS in Biology. Originally she was Pre-Med while doing AFROTC, but after giving flying a try for a few hours in a Cessna she decided to apply for a pilot slot.
Nicole was commissioned and moved to Laughlin AFB in Del Rio, TX for Undergraduate Pilot Training (UPT). She stayed there after UPT as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP) and taught students how to fly the T-38 for 3 years in the 87th Flying Training Squadron.
That is where she met her husband, Mark Palyok, who was also a T-38 FAIP at the time. Her husband and Nicole moved to Holloman AFB last summer and both went through F-16 training at the same time, though he was two months ahead of his wife’s class. Mark is already out at Misawa AB, Japan, and she will be joining him there in October. They are “very excited to be flying the Viper and to have the opportunity to travel overseas too.”
Nicole remarked that it was “funny that we both ended up being selected for the (Leadership) award, It was quite an honor.”