Major Mat “Sled” Park, a combat-experienced F-16 Viper fighter pilot, now an instructor at Holloman AFB, in NM, spoke to the Flight 24 Daedalians of El Paso, Texas, about the current life of an Air Force fighter pilot, and of the possible future of his profession as we begin our merge into the 6th Generation of U. S. Fighter aircraft. He also extolled the exciting and rewarding life of both a fighter pilot – – – and a career in the USAF. Almost uniquely, it happens that “Sled’s” wife, Danielle, is also an F-16 Viper instructor pilot at Holloman. They met while on duty in Japan, married, and now have two children. The Air Force arranges for them to serve together.
Here’s Major Park’s story, told by Daedalian Flight Captain, Colonel Mario Campos – at left. (All members of the Flight 24 are also long-time members of the FASF):
Maj Mathew “Sled” Park grew up in Phoenix, Arizona with his two brothers. His father served as an F-16 pilot for 20 years and his mother put up with their video games, fights, and affinity for getting into trouble. He often went on long backpacking or motorcycle trips with his brothers, exploring the varied terrain of the Southwestern United States.
Sled went to the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 2007 where he dreamed of becoming a fighter pilot . . . until the Air Force determined he was not medically qualified to fly fighter planes. Disheartened but not defeated, he elected to learn Russian and major in Eastern European geopolitical studies in order to work as an intelligence officer in the USAF and eventually at the state department. A last-minute Hail Mary waiver allowed him to attend UPT at Sheppard AFB, TX where he tracked his first choice (F-16s) in 2012.
After graduating from UPT and IFF in 2013, he went to Luke AFB, Arizona, and graduated from the F-16B course at the 309th Fighter Squadron (QQMF), which was coincidentally the same fighter squadron from which his father had retired. His first assignment took him to Misawa, Japan, home of the PACAF Wild Weasel Block 50 F-16s. He deployed in 2015 as part of Operation Inherent Resolve, where he flew 376 combat hours in support of friendly troops and experienced firsthand the atrocities committed by ISIS on the people of Iraq, Kurdistan, and Syria.
He returned to Misawa, completed the Flight Lead Program, went on way too many TDYs and exercises across the PACAF theater, and eventually returned to the United States to learn to become an instructor pilot at Holloman AFB, NM. It was there that he married his wife, Major Danielle Park, USAF, also an F-16 pilot, but not a better one, (if you ever ask him). The couple quickly had two children and transferred to the USAF Reserves as a full-time instructor pilot after 5 years on active duty in the Regular Air Force in New Mexico.
Sled and his wife (below photo on a mountainside) live in the mountain resort town of Cloudcraft, NM, and primarily spend their time exploring the state with their children and dogs on various camping, climbing, sailing, and hiking trips.
Sled and his wife were recently hired by the Air National Guard (ANG) in January of 2023 and intend to move to the Midwest, where they will continue to fly SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defenses) missions and assist their unit with regular alert responsibilities.