Kennewick native Capt. Joshua Southerland decided to see a bit of the countryside Saturday morning while he was back in the Tri-Cities for his cousin’s wedding.
So he went up to Wenatchee to see his wife’s hometown, then back over to Pullman and Moscow, where he graduated from the University of Idaho. For good measure, he then went back across Washington to the Seattle area before returning to Pasco.
Such a trip is made easier when you are the pilot of a Marine Corps F/A-18C Hornet fighter, flying 550 mph.
“I always wanted to come back and fly in my hometown; finally got the chance to,” he said.
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Southerland, 29, has been in the Marines for seven years, the past four flying Hornets. He arrived in the Tri-Cities on Friday after making his way up from Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego, and was able to get in a couple training exercises while in town for the wedding.
“I just think it’s the coolest jet you can fly,” he said.
The 2004 Kamiakin High School graduate developed his love of flying while playing an F-22 Raptor computer simulator game with his grandfather, Duane LaPierre. Southerland didn’t quite fulfill their bucket list item of landing a plane on Rachel Road and picking his grandfather up, but he was able to bring several flights near relatives’ homes.
“I played with him from the time he was 10 years old,” LaPierre said after greeting Southerland on the runway at Tri-Cities Airport. “By the time he was 12, he beat me and took the fun out of it for me!”
Pilots perform flight operations at Miramar during the week, but are allowed to pick where they get weekend flight time, Southerland said.
Southerland’s wingman flew along side him for part of the trip, but wasn’t able to make it to Pasco because of mechanical problems with his jet, Southerland said.
Southerland arrived in Pasco by performing a flyover near the family members who gathered Saturday morning. He then turned hard to lower his speed before circling around for a landing. He then pulled up to the SullinAir Jet Center.
Getting to see Southerland land up close was a thrill for the family members.
“For him to be able to come into his hometown and show his family what he’s worked for is just incredible,” said his mother, Kippy Southerland.
Josh Southerland graduated in 2009 first in his officer training class of 274, according to Herald archives. He received the Marine Corps Association Semper Fidelis Award, the highest honor given to an officer at graduation.
He also received the MCA Military Skills Award for excelling in 12 events demonstrating physical fitness, endurance, agility, marksmanship and other military skills.
“He worked for it,” LaPierre said. “Nothing was given to him.”
Southerland has been stationed in San Diego for three years, after serving previously in Northern California, Mississippi, Florida and Virginia.
“He’s always been Top Hook, Top Gun, top everything,” his mother said.
Josh Southerland still has a sense of humor, evident by his call sign, “Nutshack,” which is displayed on his flight suit. He got the name when his night-vision goggles fell off his helmet and bounced off his body.
“I think you can glean the rest of that,” he said.
Southerland plans to fly out to return to California around noon Sunday, he said.