JOINT BASE ELMENDORF-RICHARDSON, Alaska — As the sun was setting across the Anbar Desert in December 2006, a Humvee gun truck driver spotted a slight glint strung across the road from a vehicle street side.
The glint turned out to be a tripwire for a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device, an all-too-common occurrence during the Iraq War. The warning came just in time for the driver to swerve slightly and drive through the blast, helping create just enough distance to save the lives of others in the vehicle.
The turret gunner for this tour was Lance Cpl. Seth Peterson, a recon Marine with Echo Company, 4th Reconnaissance Battalion, received a Purple Heart for wounds he received during the attack.
Now serving in the Alaska Air National Guard, Capt. Peterson said he grew up with service in his blood. Both of his parents served in the Army and both grandfathers served in World War II, one as a naval officer in the South Pacific, the other as a military police officer with the Manhattan Project, which built the atomic bomb.
Peterson, a native of Anchorage, Alaska, graduated high school shortly after the Global War on Terrorism kicked off in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
He felt he couldn’t go straight to college while many of his friends were going directly into the service. He wanted to pay his dues, so he enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve to serve his state and country. The choice allowed him to stay in his home state of Alaska while still serving.
“Recon Marines are some of the first boots on the ground, directly serving the infantry as their eyes and ears,” Peterson said. “Everything in the Marines revolves around the infantry mission; air assets included.”
Being on the ground, Peterson said he always knew he had overwatch from above. He understood what it was like to be a grunt, and air assets know very well they are not far removed from the ground fight if their aircraft goes down, so there is a strong team identity wrapped up in the mission.
Peterson said that sense of camaraderie and dedication to the team collective helped him adapt quickly to the combat search and rescue mission.
“In rescue, there’s a tight relationship between air and ground,” the 210th Rescue Squadron HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopter pilot said. “It’s not just the crew, it’s the maintainers and the whole package of support personnel that help get the helo off the ground to support the rescue mission.”
Peterson said relationships are what brought him to the Alaska Air National Guard.
While serving as a recon Marine in Iraq in 2008, Peterson worked with a CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopter pilot serving as the battalion joint terminal attack controller, call sign “Buddha”. Peterson said this was the first time he had much face time with an air officer.
“He inspired me with his incredibly cool demeanor under pressure and his mentorship in teaching junior Marines everything from personal finance to calling in air support,” he added.
After his experience, he started working towards his private pilot’s license while looking for ways to serve in military aviation. That’s when he stumbled upon the Air National Guard and submitted a pilot package during his last semester of college.
Today, Peterson said he is a proud member and pilot of the 210th RQS, a legacy of service he’s proud to continue as the squadron’s newest instructor pilot who serves as inspiration for the next generation of rescue aviators.