SAN DIEGO, CA, UNITED STATES
When he was a child growing up in Southern California, Lt. Col. David R. Berke was always enamored with the military services.
He would spend hours outside under the flight path leading into Marine Corps Air Station El Toro staring into the sky, watching the jets land.
“It was a major motivator to both fly and be a Marine,” said Berke, as he reminisced about what he wanted to be when he grew up. “I remember vividly, at age 16 I committed to joining the Marine Corps and pursued that goal until I was commissioned.”
For the “SoCal” native, no other experience would be as rewarding as becoming a Marine – let alone becoming a pilot.
Upon graduation from El Toro High School in 1990 and after careful consideration of his options, Berke visited his local Marine Corps officer selection office and became an officer candidate – selecting the Platoon Leaders Course as the program to earn his commission.
“I was very proud and supportive of his decision,” said Berke’s mother, Arelene Anderson. “He always talked about joining [the Marine Corps] as a child. I was happy with his decision.”
He then spent the next four years at California State University in Fullerton, working toward his Bachelor of Arts degree in political science. Once he graduated from college in 1994, Berke was commissioned a second lieutenant in a ceremony held at MCAS El Toro’s Officer’s Club.
This was a proud moment for Berke because he was the first in his family to join the service – and not just any service, but the one he believed to be the best, the Marine Corps.
“I was contracted as a ground officer and was lucky enough to be selected for aviation,” said Berke. “I always wanted to be a pilot, but I didn’t know I was going to flight school until the end of [The Basic School].”
For the next few years, Berke went through a rigorous training schedule in preparation to becoming a Marine aviator. He received classroom instruction in aerodynamics, aircraft engines and systems, meteorology, navigation, and flight rules and regulations. Berke also received field instruction in survival tactics, survival swimming and aviation physiology.
In 1997, his childhood dream became a reality, and Berke began his career as a fighter pilot flying F/A-18 “Hornets.” This was a notable feat for Berke considering many people “wash out” of Flight Training School for various reasons.
Since becoming a pilot, Berke has deployed twice on aircraft carriers to both Iraq and Afghanistan, delivering ordnance in support of the Marines on the ground. He also did a tour as a “Top Gun” instructor, officially titled strike fighter tactics instructor, and was the executive officer for Marine Fighter Attack Squadron 314, MCAS Miramar.
However, according to Berke, the most notable and influential experience in his career was serving in ground combat as an Air Naval Gunfire Liaison Company forward air controller in Ramadi, Iraq, in 2006.
“Leading Marines in combat, despite its tremendous challenges, has been my biggest honor,” said Berke adamantly.
In 2008, after spending more than a decade flying Hornets, Berke was selected to an exchange pilot program with the Air Force. He competed with several other applicants through a selection board process and became the first Marine pilot to fly an F-22 “Raptor,” which is a fifth-generation aircraft that uses stealth technology and was primarily designed with additional capabilities that include ground attack, electronic warfare and signals intelligence.
“To be the first Marine to do something is a real honor,” said Berke, the Marine Corps F-22 exchange pilot, 422nd Test and Evaluation Squadron, Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. “I can’t express how lucky I am to have been afforded this opportunity.”
“Being the first and only [Marine] to be selected for that position is absolutely amazing and incredible,” added the proud mother.
While it has been personally rewarding for Berke to fly the Raptor, he takes the responsibility very seriously.
“The Corps has made a big investment in my tour flying the Raptor,” said Berke, “but most importantly, I have been given the privilege and responsibility of learning the fifth generation employment to prepare for the Marine Corps’ [F-35 ‘Joint Strike Fighter’] arrival.”
Berke explained that though the F/A-18 is a great aircraft with numerous capabilities, the stealth, speed and situational awareness of the F-22 are unmatched. The Raptor is a significant leap forward in virtually all metrics for aviation. Combining the F-22 and F/A-18 make both aircraft much more lethal and survivable.
“I can’t wait for the Corps to get the JSF,” said Berke. “It will be a game changer for us and the Marines in the fight.”
With only a year left in his tour at 422nd TES, Berke is not sure what he will be doing next or where he will go. He does mention that the command board is in progress, and if he is selected, he will transfer to wherever the unit is.
“I’ve had a great career thus far, and I’m optimistic that whatever I do next will be rewarding,” concluded Berke.
||SAN DIEGO, CA, US
This work, Marine crosses into the blue, pilots F-22 'Raptor', by GySgt Christine Polvorosa, identified by DVIDS, is free of known copyright restrictions under U.S. copyright law.