Profile of a Hero: Major Luc “Gaza” Gruenther


On January 28th, during a training mission off the coast of Italy, Luc “Gaza” Gruenther’s F-16 fighter went down in bad weather.  His body was found several days later after a massive search by Italian and US personnel and assets.

Luc leaves behind a wonderful wife, Cassy, who is expecting the birth of their first child in the next couple weeks.  Luc and Cassy were a vital part of our squadron at a previous assignment when Luc (we called him “SHIN” back then) was a FAIP.  This is where most folks stop the story.  “What’s a FAIP?” they ask.

I can give you a short official description.  FAIPs are “First Assignment Instructor Pilots,” guys and gals who, immediately after finishing pilot training, get selected for instructor training, then spend the next three years teaching students before being assigned to front-line weapons systems.

That description, though accurate, just doesn’t do the FAIP moniker justice.  At Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training (ENJJPT), FAIPs were the backbone of the organization.

It wasn’t just because folks like SHIN would throw down three sorties a day in a greenhouse-like cockpit that regularly exceeded 140 degrees in the North Texas sun.  It wasn’t just because they did the workhorse jobs in the flight while us graybeards held the line as assistant gradebook officers.  It wasn’t just because they were the repositories of knowledge, keeping us old guys honest.  And it wasn’t just because they were the Snack-Os… though to be honest, that was a lot of it.

No, FAIPs were the backbone of ENJJPT, because like the LPA (Lieutenants’ Protective Association) in most operational squadrons, the “FAIP Mafia” brought energy and life into the squadron, reminding us one-eyed old fat men why we were here in the first place – to get the business done.  FAIPs were the first to raise their hands for anything, whether it was jumping into an empty seat, spending extra hours to help a struggling student study for tomorrow’s checkride, hanging out well past formal release to get the schedule finalized and the gradebooks square, volunteering for yet another cross-country, or leading a busload of school kids on a tour.  They were the ones organizing the squadron party, then flipping burgers at it.  They were the ones kicking the other wing’s butt in every organized sport, then leaving us with bruises that night at the crud table.  Best of all, they were the ones who reminded us how much we loved our job.

This is how I remember SHIN.  He was a standout FAIP, easy to pick out of the crowd and not just because of his physical presence.  SHIN was absolutely, 100% “in” for whatever he was doing at the time.  First in/last out in the squadron whether it was as a line IP or in check section, SHIN had a contagious energy that infected not just his students but also the crustiest “seasoned” IP.  He was a tireless volunteer for everything, not in some lame attempt to make himself look good, but because he wanted to help out.  When our leadership got together to talk about a project that absolutely needed to succeed, SHIN’s name invariably rose to the top of our list.  He was guy I could point newbies to and say, “Follow him.”

What made him especially memorable is that he not only excelled at the heavy duties we gave him, but did it all with a true cheerfulness.  It wasn’t a pasted-on smile, but something that came from within.  The guy was a poster child for positive attitude.  One of the best memories I have of SHIN involved that outlook on life, and it wasn’t even at ENJJPT.  It happened after he and Cassy had left ENJJPT for the F-16, and while at training, their apartment caught fire.  I remember calling SHIN to see how he and Cassy were doing, and though I don’t remember the details of the conversation that well, what I do remember is that the guy  didn’t sound like someone who had lost anything.  As always, he had that positive attitude, an attitude that was contagious even through a phone line.  I’ve counseled more than enough folks to know when they’re putting on an act, and he wasn’t.  He was genuinely happy, and had no worries about how they’d get through this challenge.  I had called to see how we could help, and instead, he’d helped me.  Luc in a nutshell.

That’s how I’ll remember Luc:  Big smile on his face, moving forward to greet folks and energizing them into action.

The loss of Luc has hit our family hard – our immediate family and our extended Air Force family.  It’s even harder because he is the third former member of our squadron we’ve lost in as many years.  Flying fighters is a dangerous business.

Remember Luc.  Remember all the wonderful men and women like him we’ve lost in the service to our nation over almost two and a half centuries.  But please also remember the families.  Since the loss of Luc, I’ve told several of my comrades in arms that we need to recognize that the families are the ones who really sacrifice, not us. As I heard a chaplain say at another funeral a couple weeks ago, “We volunteer. They get drafted.”  In one of the most famous stories of sacrifice in the Bible, we should realize that Isaac had the easy job. The toughest role in that story was Abraham, who put his loved one on the altar. That’s what a servicemember’s wife, husband, kids, and parents do every time he or she straps that jet on, shoulders a ruck and rifle, or steps out on a deployment.  It took me way too long to realize that in my career, and I wish I had learned it earlier.  It’s humbling that I often get thanked by folks for my service – but it’s our families that truly deserve recognition.

Please join me in praying for Luc’s family, especially Cassy and their soon-to-be born daughter, Serene.  If you would like to post a remembrance or contribute financially, the family has established a website for that: www.lucasgruenther.com

———— UPDATE ———-

The National Red River Valley Association – the “River Rats” – of which Luc was an active member (as am I), in conjunction with its charitable arm, the Air Warrior Courage Foundation (AWCF), has established another way to donate.  Through their 501(c)3 organization, they have established a college 529 to accept tax deductible contributions for his daughter’s college education.

The Rats pass on the following instructions:

It is very important to follow the directions below, particularly the “In Memory…” verbiage.

All contributions are tax deductible.

There are two ways to give.

1. Send a check to the AWCF, P.O. Box 877, Silver Spring, MD 20918. In a
note or on the check say “In Memory of Major Lucas “Gaza” Gruenther.”

2. Using a credit card. Go to our home page at www.airwarriorcourage.org .
On the Home page is a DONATE button. Click it and it will take you to a page
with a GIVE DIRECT button. Click it and fill in the blanks. In the COMMENTS
block put in “In Memory of Major Lucas “Gaza” Gruenther”.

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15 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by John Swanson on February 2, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Peder, Here’s another post by Pat Testerman.  He writes well and always interestingly, sad to loose a brother in arms but as a Believer always in hope. Pop

    ________________________________

    Reply

  2. I would like to re-blog this. Thank you for your service, for raising your family the right way and for telling the world about SHIN.

    Reply

  3. […] « Major Luc “Gaza” Gruenther […]

    Reply

  4. Posted by Romel Mathias on February 3, 2013 at 7:26 pm

    Many thanks for sharing your memories of Luc. It warms my heart to hear these wonderful stories. He will be sorely missed. Romel Luc’s mom

    Reply

    • He will be missed sorely indeed. I am honored to have known and served with your son. No words can heal his loss, but I am glad to know that this has helped. I know many have written similar remembrances to be collected and shared with Cassy and Serene. He was a wonderful man and worthy of being remembered as such. Your family is in our prayers. – Pat

      Reply

    • Posted by Kathy Scutt on February 5, 2013 at 9:53 am

      Romel you raised a champion. He did more good on this earth in his short time than most others in triple the years. You are in our thoughts and prayers every day. Safe journey home and if Bob or I can do anything for you to ease your transition, please do call. Kathy and Bob Scutt

      Reply

  5. […] Last week, there were reports of an F-16 that was lost on a training mission. The F-16 was based at Aviano, AB Italy. The search was conducted for three days before the body of Major Luc Gruenther was recovered. He leaves behind a wife and their unborn child. I found this on the blog “The Flying T Ranch.” I do not know the name of the author but there is no doubt that these men were friends. You should check out his thoughts about his friend here: https://flyingtnh.wordpress.com/2013/02/02/major-luc-gaza-gruenther/ […]

    Reply

  6. Posted by Norma Edson on February 5, 2013 at 1:58 am

    never knew Luc..but i somehow feel connected…. only heard of this tragedy, his passing, from someone close who lives near his hometown…but what an inspiration he is to me … all he gave, the integrity, the sacrifice , it is inspiring to realize that we here on earth are so blessed with spirits such as Major Gruenther’s … fly high Luc…fly high and forever….

    Reply

  7. Posted by Deanna Burelli on February 5, 2013 at 11:39 am

    Your words are eloquent and touching. I did not know Luc, but I have close friends here in Aviano who did. Clearly, I missed meeting someone very special! I share in your sorrows and hope that your warm memories somehow manage to help fill your sad moments ahead. May God keep and protect all of our military members and their families.

    Reply

  8. Thank you for sharing Luc..he is amazing and I will share with everyone to LIVE LIKE LUC! prayers and love to Luc’s family

    Reply

  9. Posted by Jack Daniels on February 6, 2013 at 1:04 pm

    Blue skies my friend…you made us all better people for knowing you and your family. We truly love you and in my books, you are the best PTWOB to wear the suit. You were the best of all of us; not because of your mad point turning skills or the ability to drop a knee and fly, but because of the man you are. Luc taught me more than I can ever express in words and will forever be grateful. Some of my best memories will always be falling at 120 MPH over the rockies, desert and beaches…and laughing after about all the good times, traveling with Datz, Woz and Luc…UFOURIA WILL TURN POINTS! See ya on the otter big guy…Lots of love to all and to you PTWOB 2003!

    201

    Reply

  10. Posted by Travis Willcox on January 13, 2014 at 10:42 pm

    Wow, great post! It’s been almost a year and I have been searching for ways to honor Luc and pass on what he gave to so many. Came across this post and wanted to write to say thanks for honoring him and reminding me of one of the greatest friends and fellow service men I have ever known. I think of him and pray for his family daily. Would love to hear more about how you knew Luc and how he touched your life. It’s awesome to see what you guys are doing with what God has given you and passing it on. My wife and I would love the opportunity to live like you at Flying T Ranch and continue to raise our family in such a godly, healthy, respectful way, but we are thankful for the opportunities He has given us now to homeschool our boys and teach them about Him and how to be stewards of what He has given us in the best way we know how. Keep up the great work and be blessed. – Travis

    Reply

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