Story and photos by US Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Tara Molle – What did you want to be when you were a kid? For children, dreams and ideas for their adult profession can stretch beyond imagination. As those children continue to grow, sometimes those dreams and ideas change and they end up following other life paths.
From as young as 3-years old, Lt. j.g. Matthew Chase knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up. Cliché as it sounds, one could say it was his destiny. Chase wanted to be a pilot, but not just any pilot. He wanted to be a Coast Guard C-130 Hercules airplane pilot.
“I was that one kid who always wanted to be a pilot,” said Chase flashing a wide grin. “All I ever wanted to do was fly C-130s. A lot of kids would be like, ‘Oh it would be nice to fly one day,’ and my dad would say, ‘Son, if you want to do something and you want to do it well, you have to make it your life. Live it.’ So from that point on, that was it for me.”
That dream would be nurtured by his father Kim Chase, a 23-year retired Coast Guard warrant officer who had a love and passion for the Coast Guard and aviation. That passion seemed to pass directly onto his son. His father’s love of aviation wasn’t the only thing Chase embraced. He learned from his father at a young age that if was going to get anywhere in life, especially aspiring to be a Coast Guard pilot, it was going to be through hard work and dedication.
“My dad was a huge fan of aviation,” said Chase. “When I was 12 or 13 I remember telling my dad, ‘I’m going to be a pilot’ and he would say, ‘Well, you shouldn’t just be playing video games you should learn what the pilots do…’ So he would bring home instrument approach plates we use in the field and say ‘Let’s learn this!,’ he said chuckling as if he was reminiscing with his dad about childhood memories.
His dad even bought Chase a C-130 model airplane for them to build together. Unfortunately, that model airplane still sits unbuilt in the box at Chase’s mothers house in Baltimore. Kim Chase passed away from cancer in 2005.
“It seemed like it happened so fast,” said Chase. “One day he couldn’t come to one of my lacrosse games because he wasn’t feeling well. He went to the doctor and two days later found out he had cancer with only six months left to live.”
Chase explained the short amount of time left was spent soaking up as much knowledge and life lessons from his father as he could before he passed.
“The day he died I got up and went to school because he always told me, you don’t miss school,” Chase explained. “After that, I just had to continue to push forward. That’s what he would have wanted. Flying was the only thing that kept me going.”
Kim would never get to see his son be accepted into the Coast Guard Academy in 2007 and be sent directly to flight school for two years after his graduation in 2011.
“When my dad made warrant, especially coming up through he enlisted ranks as a storekeeper, it gave me a great perspective because he took becoming an officer as a huge deal,” said Chase. “He never stopped telling me the importance of what that meant.”
Being sent to flight school immediately after graduation would prove to be a big accomplishment for Chase since only eight to 10 percent make it into flight school immediately after they graduate. It would have been something Kim would have been extremely proud of.
Another person who was for Chase’s success was his mother Carroll. Upon graduation, she proudly pinned shiny gold pilot wings onto her son’s uniform. This would mark the proverbial door closing and window opening in their lives.
“I always joke that my mother has been in the Coast Guard longer than me,” said Chase smiling proudly. “She and I are so close and she’s always been there through it all.”
Now it was time to put all those years of studying, hard work and practice to use in the field. For Chase, the field would be sunny, weather hovering around upper eighties most of the time, deep crystal blue water as far as the eye could see…paradise. His first duty station would be as a C-130 Hercules pilot at Coast Guard Air Station Barbers Point on Oahu, Hawaii. His childhood dream had finally come to fruition.
Surreal is the only word Chase can muster when he describes his journey and new destination. He reported to the air station in April 2013.
“When I finally arrived here I said, man this is actually happening,” said Chase not being able to hold back a smile. “I’m sure people would kill for this!”
The success and new destination have not gone to his head. If anything, Chase explains that he’s humbled daily by the mission and his fellow crewmembers.
On one of his initial area familiarization flights, Chase and his fellow crewmembers were diverted to search for an Emergency Positioning Indicating Radio Beacon 500 miles offshore. While the mission turned out to be a false alert, it provided Chase with valuable field experience. As a new pilot, Chase is provided instruction and mentorship by his more seasoned crewmembers.
“I can’t imagine what it’s like having to teach a new pilot while you’re monitoring a million other things while flying,” said Chase of his crew. “From my perspective, it’s a very impressive job because those guys and girls are not only responsible for maintaining the safety of the aircraft but teaching us at the same time.”
Chase explained how the learning is never ending and that his primary job is to learn how to be safer and to fly the aircraft.
“I’m always reading the manuals, always reading the systems and different things,” said Chase. “But the amount of knowledge combined in the aircraft is amazing,” he added proudly as though he was speaking of close friends. “It’s a lot of stuff you can’t learn in a book. These are the kinds of people you want to fly with.”
Why C-130’s, one might ask. What is it about flying a cargo plane that has him so mesmerized? To Chase the answer is very simple.
“The size and the power of the Herc fascinated me,” he said. “I remember seeing it for the first time when I was a kid and just being blown away. I love the bigger aircraft, bigger crew and especially the traveling. Having coffee on board doesn’t hurt either,” he added through a slightly mischievous grin.
Now having been stationed at Barbers Point for almost six months, Chase is finally getting settled into the Coast Guard and aviation life.
“I set a goal that I could meet relatively early in life,” he said. “I got winged at almost 24-years-old. Now my goal is to just be a better officer, better pilot, better husband and just overall better in life.”
Chase elaborated on how it’s is hardly ever categorized as work, especially while being stationed in Hawaii.
“The Coast Guard is so great because even when you get into the daily grind, you still love and appreciate what you do.”
Now at 24-years-old, and having achieved his lifelong dream, Chase has the rest of his life to soak up the every day blessings he worked so hard to obtain. But Chase never forgets how it all started and who he truly owes his successes to.
“Everything now is just to carry out my dad’s memory and legacy,” said Chase fighting back a few tears. “I can’t imagine doing anything else in life. Every now and then when I walk back into the hanger after a flight I look back at the Herc and say, ‘How about that dad? How about that.’”