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Spring 2003

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Up in the air

by Robert W. Smith

Pilot Ken Masson ’89 banks for a landing on his aircraft carrier.

When Kenneth Masson ’89 was growing up in Greenwich, Conn., he could look out his bedroom window and see the World Trade Center in Manhattan.
    On September 11, 2001, at his home in Washington State, he was getting ready for “what should have been an ordinary day at work,” he recalls. Within a month he was halfway around the world, on the USS Theodore Roosevelt, and he was really at work: flying combat missions over Afghanistan.
    Over the next six months the Navy lieutenant commander flew forty-three six-hour night combat missions in his EA-6B Prowler, equipped with a “tactical jammer.” Using the Prowler’s radar and communications interference, “we took out the ‘eyes and ears’ of the enemy so our F-14s and F-18s could come in and drop their bombs,” he explains. “The majority of our work in Afghanistan was exploiting communications and protecting our Special Forces on the ground.”
    Last January, Masson was back at home in Whidbey Island, Wash., with his wife, Allison Schick Masson ’89, and their three children. There the senior squadron pilot took time to reflect on his service.
    Masson, who entered the Navy’s Officer Candidate School after his sophomore year as an economics major, has been flying combat missions since 1993, over Iraq, Somalia, and Kosovo. But the Afghanistan assignment was his first time fighting as a direct result of an attack on the United States. “It had more profound personal meaning for me than the other missions,” he says.
    Each time he came home from those other difficult deployments, Masson says, “I was a little more jaded. There I was, sacrificing an awful lot, without hearing a heck of a lot of acknowledgement or respect for the job the military was doing.” But after 9/11, he says, “people didn’t seem to see us so much as political tools but as defenders standing up for the country’s freedom.” And that’s why he joined the Navy in the first place, he says: “To serve and make this country a safer, better place.”
    Masson hopes soon to be serving in a very different capacity. He’s been nominated for a fellowship at the White House, where he’d spend a year on the staff of a cabinet member, “learning the inner workings of government.” Unless the recent U.S.-led invasion sends him up in his Prowler. Again. In combat. Over Iraq.

Bob Smith is a freelance writer and public-relations consultant in East Greenbush, N.Y.

Editor’s note: Other Skidmorites in the military include JAG lawyer Robert Resnick ’88 and Marine David Bordorf ’89, as well as activated Army reservists Adam Bock ’03 and Yamilett Picchardo ’03.


© 2003 Skidmore College