Sports

Into the wild blue yonder

By CASEY OLSON

The Mirror

Jeremy Sloane grew up in the ‘80s.

So it’s not hard to believe that the movie “Top Gun” became a big part of his life.

But instead of just buying the leather bomber’s jacket, white T-shirt and mirrored sunglasses that Tom Cruise made popular, Sloane took his fascination with the movie all the way to the cockpit of a fighter jet.

The 1988 graduate of Federal Way High School has been piloting the Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcon in the United States Air Force for the past 10 years.

“That cheesy movie didn’t hurt,” Sloane said with a laugh.

During that time in the cockpit, Sloane has developed into one of the Air Force’s top guns. Last week he received one of the greatest honors any fighter pilot in the military can attain when he was named to the prestigious Thunderbirds air demonstration squadron. Sloane, a major in the Air Force, will be one of eight pilots on the team.

“It’s a good deal,” Sloane said. “It’s definitely highly sought after and something I wanted to do throughout my Air Force career. They really take a look at everything, including how you handle yourself around people. It’s a big recruitment tool. They want you to embody everything that is good about the Air Force.”

Sloane will officially join the United States Air Force Demonstration Squadron – the team’s official military name – for the 2005 season. Sloane will be officially deployed to Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas to start his two-year stint with the Thunderbirds next year. He currently works as a flight instructor at Luke Air Force Base in Phoenix.

Maverick, Ice Man and Goose may have led him to the United States Air Force Academy after high school, but most people in Federal Way remember Sloane as an all-state basketball player for the Eagles.

Sloane led Federal Way to the Class 4A State Basketball Championships inside the old Seattle Center Coliseum his senior season. It was also the first year the state installed the 3-point line in high school.

“He really didn’t mind that,” said Jeremy’s dad, Doug, who is still an assistant coach on Jerome Collins’ staff at Federal Way.

Slaone’s long-range shooting was legendary around the South Puget Sound League. He’s still No. 2 on the all-time SPSL 3-point shooting percentage list. During the 1987-88 season, Sloane made 37-of-57 (64.9 percent) from behind the arc.

“I’ve still got the shooting touch,” said Sloane, whose call sign, Kid, is written on the side of his F-16.

Following his senior year, the 6-foot-2 guard had looks from basketball programs at Washington State, Santa Barbara, Princeton and Wyoming, but the lure of flying fighter jets led him to Colorado Springs, Colo. and the Air Force Academy.

“I knew I wasn’t going to make it to the (National Basketball League),” he said. “I was smart enough in high school to know that. I wanted go to school and get a good education and I knew I would get that at the Air Force Academy and it would be free for my family.”

But things weren’t always easy for Sloane after enrolling at the Academy. A fact he admits without hesitation. He didn’t come from a military family, like a bulk of his classmates, and really didn’t know what to expect the first time he stepped on the Colorado Springs campus.

“It was a cultural shock for him,” said Doug Sloane. “He went from being in the top 5 percent (at Federal Way High School) to being just another person from a grade standpoint. He really had to work hard.”

“There were a lot of times that I wanted to quit,” Sloane said. “Everywhere you went people were in your face telling you to do this and that. I would come back for Christmas Break and didn’t know if I really wanted to go back. It’s not for everyone.”

Basketball, which was always a huge part of Sloane’s life, had to be put on the back burner because of the immense time commitment required in academics and military training by Air Force Academy instructors.

The gym rat played his first two years in Colorado Springs, mostly on the Academy’s junior varsity.

“I was just so busy and tired,” Sloane said. “I just kind of saw the writing on the wall. So I decided to work on academics.”

That decision has paid off.

Sloane has developed into one of the best F-16 fighter pilots in the Air Force and logged thousand of hours in the cockpit.

“It’s just awesome to be up there,” he said. “You can’t really explain what it feels like to fly a fighter jet to people. We give a lot of orientation rides and most of the people get sick. My body has just gotten used to it.”

He has also grown accustomed to being shot at. Since his graduation from the Academy in 1992 with a degree in general engineering, Sloane has logged a number of combat missions over enemy territories all over the world.

A bulk of the missions came during Operation Allied Force over Kosovo and Serbia and his F-16 was actually the second fighter jet into the war. During Operation Allied Force, Sloane was also on the rescue crew to rescue Air Force Capt. Scott O’Grady, whose plane was shot down.

“It’s scary the first couple times you see (combat),” Sloane said. “Your hands are shaking a little bit. But you get used to it. You get used to the fact that people will be targeting you. You handle it if it does happen.”

“Life has been pretty interesting for him,” Doug Sloane said of his son.

Sloane is married to Lisa Kinman, who happens to be a 1988 graduate of Federal Way arch rival Decatur. The Sloanes have a pair of 2-year-old twin boys, Mitchell and Quinn.

“I have pretty much as close to a 9 to 5 job as you can have in the Air Force,” he said about his instructing assignment at Luke Air Force Base.

That will change when he starts flying with the Thunderbirds. The squadron performs about 90 air demonstrations each year and since the unit’s inception in 1953, more than 315 million people in all 50 states and 60 foreign countries have watched the red, white and blue jets in more than 3,850 official aerial demonstrations.

The Thunderbirds’ season runs March through November with a show scheduled pretty much every weekend. Meaning a lot of time away from his family.

“They are usually six-day work weeks,” Sloane said. “But we are used to it.”

It looks like one of those work weeks will be at McChord Air Force Base in Tacoma during Sloane’s first season with the Thunderbirds next July. The squadron alternates year to year between McChord and Fairchild Air Force Base in Spokane. The Thunderbirds will perform in Spokane next month.

“It’s going to be fun to come home,” he said.

Sports editor Casey Olson: 925-5565, sports@fedwaymirror.com

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