John Golden ’09 says he felt a desire to serve at an early age. Coming from a Navy family, he felt this calling in a big way and considered studying at the U.S. Naval Academy. But its Annapolis, Maryland, location was too far from his home in Mount Olive, New Jersey.
Today, this Air Force captain is a good bit further from home, as he’s currently stationed with the 56th Rescue Squadron at Royal Air Base in Lakenheath, England. He’s a helicopter pilot with the elite Combat Search and Rescue Squad, often going into hostile territory to pick up wounded allies. In 2013, National Geographic first aired a documentary series called “Inside Combat Rescue’’ that highlights this mission and these brave military personnel.
Golden became qualified as a HH-60 PaveHawk helicopter pilot in 2012. These superior flying vessels are a derivative of the UH-60 Black Hawk, containing an upgraded communications and navigation suite such as global positioning, satellite communications and night vision goggles lighting. Two crew-served machine guns and folding rotor blades are also on board. The Air Force has only five of these combat and rescue squads in the world, with about 60 men and women per squad. It takes several years of training, but Golden made the cut, earning the award of Distinguished Graduate (top in his class) at graduation.
Golden’s journey to Stevens began after he decided against the Naval Academy. Always interested in engineering as a high school student (“I always did love robotics,’’ he says), he stumbled upon Stevens and was attracted to its stellar reputation and its ideal location to both home and New York City. But how to combine engineering with his strong desire for giving back?
“I wasn’t sure how to do it at first,’’ Golden says. But while at Stevens, he joined Sigma Phi Epsilon and belonged to the Air Force Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). “I soon discovered the best of both worlds — engineering and service.’’
Rescue squadrons in the military operate by the motto, “These things we do, that others may live.’’ Golden explains. “It’s the ultimate high, to bring home someone who is wounded and so far away.’’ And as for the danger of flying into enemy territory, he seems to brush it off. “What I do is nothing compared to what these guys have been through.’’
“There’s no greater reward than helping a fellow serviceman,’’ Golden says. “It’s the ultimate.’’
He credits his Stevens education with laying the foundation for all he’s learned in the military. “From the Air Force, I’ve learned the aerodynamics of a helicopter, and from Stevens, I’ve learned the systems of the helicopter, of how to analyze what is wrong and react appropriately.’’
“Stevens definitely pushed me,’’ he says, noting his grueling class schedule, his work with Sigma Phi and ROTC. “I don’t regret anything. Hey, I met my wife there!’’
To say that his wife, Erika DeWan Golden ’10, is proud of her husband is an understatement. “The rescue community is made up of extremely selfless individuals, including my husband,’’ she says. Married for two years, Golden speaks highly of his wife and other rescue spouses, mentioning how much they, too, sacrifice for country and service. “It’s a team effort. And the rescue spouses spend a lot of time together. Because there’s only 60 of us in the squad, they really get to know each other.’’
Does he plan to stay in the Air Force forever?
“I’m going to be here until I can’t fly anymore,’’ he said.