Father passes baton to son during final flight

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Yosselin Campos
  • 18th Wing Public Affairs

With retirement around the corner, U.S. Air Force Col. Dominic Setka, former 5th Air Force chief of staff, jumped on the opportunity to take his final flight in an E-3 Sentry with his son, U.S. Air Force Capt. Nathan Setka, 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron air weapons officer at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 17, 2022. 

Dominic began his military career in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1988 and after earning his commission in 1993 served as an air defense control officer. Within a few years, he decided that the Air Force would be a better place to raise a family. In 1999, Dominic transitioned into the Air Force as an air battle manager. 

“Air battle managers provide air domain awareness and tactical connectivity to all the assets in the theater,” Dominic said. “So instead of having a bunch of individual chess pieces moving around the board doing their own thing, you’re connecting all those pieces to enable them to decisively outpace our adversaries.”

As Nathan wrapped up his time in college, he decided he wanted to commission in the Air Force.

“Nathan’s one of four kids and none of them showed any interest in being in the military whatsoever,” said Dominic. “So when he came up to me and said ‘Hey dad, I’m interested in becoming an officer in the military,’ I was extremely proud. Now that he’s following in my footsteps as an air battle manager, I look at it as an opportunity to sort of relive my career and keep on contributing.”

Serving in the same career has created a stronger bond and sense of understanding for Nathan and Dominic. 

“I didn’t fully understand what my dad did until I got to my training assignment at Tyndall,” said Nathan. “It’s actually been really enlightening to understand what he did all while I was growing up. It’s opened up a lot of different conversations that I never could have had if I didn’t join the Air Force.”

This flight on the E-3 Sentry marks the first time Nathan and Dominic have been able to fly a mission together. 

“I think it’s a really cool opportunity to get to fly with my dad on the aircraft he flew 15 years ago,” said Nathan. “It’s not an opportunity that a lot of people get, so I’m going to make the most out of it. I think it will make my mom real happy as well, getting to see her husband and son working together one last time before he retires.”

Although the airframe of the E-3 Sentry is the same, the technology found inside of it is completely different, said Dominic. 

The E-3 Sentry is a vital asset to the U.S. Air Force, as it provides situational awareness of friendly, neutral and hostile activity, command and control of an area of responsibility, battle management of theater forces, all-altitude and all-weather surveillance of the battle space and early warning of enemy actions during joint, allied and coalition operations. 

“My last flight was in 2008, so the airplane is vastly different in the back end from the mission systems perspective, but the airframe is the same so it’s a minor miracle that we’re able to keep it flying,” chuckled Dominic. “The maintainers are as good as they are to keep that aircraft flying for this many years because the jets that he’s flying now are the same old jets that I started flying 20 plus years ago.”

As Dominic nears the end of his military career, Nathan’s is just taking off. Dominic leaves his son with a piece of advice. 

“There’s no single path to get to where you want to go, so it’s okay if you don’t do those things that other people do because you’re setting your own path,” said Dominic. “You’re going to get to where you want to go by working hard. So the same advice I would give to him, I’d give to any young officer — do the best you can where you’re at, and you’ll achieve what you want to achieve."