From flight suit to lab coat

Capt. Brian Bradke, a 177th Fighter Wing F-16C pilot, hard at work in the lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in N.Y. where he is working on his doctorate degree in biomedical engineering.  (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Brian Bradke, a 177th Fighter Wing F-16C pilot, hard at work in the lab at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in N.Y. where he is working on his doctorate degree in biomedical engineering. (Courtesy photo)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brian Bradke, deployed with the 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard, prepares his F-16C Fighting Falcon for a combat mission in support of coalition forces on Dec. 21, 2011.  (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

U.S. Air Force Capt. Brian Bradke, deployed with the 119th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, New Jersey Air National Guard, prepares his F-16C Fighting Falcon for a combat mission in support of coalition forces on Dec. 21, 2011. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Matt Hecht/Released)

ATLANTIC CITY AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, N.J. -- Challenging. Exciting. Hard work. Most would think that these are words that Air Force Capt. Brian Bradke would use to describe his experiences as an F-16C Fighting Falcon pilot with the New Jersey Air National Guard's 177th Fighter Wing, but instead, this Citizen-Airman uses them to describe his academic activities.

"I am enrolled at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., pursuing a doctorate in biomedical engineering," said Bradke. "My thesis is on orthopedic biomechanics of the spine and age-related changes of fracture resistance."

A combat veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan, Bradke was drawn to the Air National Guard because it was compatible with both his personal and professional goals.

"I wanted to be an officer and an aviator, to serve my community and nation, to have the opportunity to deploy to a combat zone, as well as afford my family stability," said Bradke. "For me, the Air National Guard was the option that allowed me to have it all."

Bradke called deploying the best experiences of his life.

"Despite the uncertainty and trepidation, the constant attacks, and knowing that if your jet goes down you will be all alone in hostile territory...it is also a rewarding and fun experience. Partly because you are actually executing the mission for which you have spent years training, but more so because of the esprit de corps you share with your squadron."

The complexity of flying a high performance fighter and the experiences gained in the New Jersey Air National Guard eased Bradke's transition into the laboratory.

"Military experience absolutely helped pave the way for me by teaching leadership and communications skills as well as a strong work ethic," said Bradke. "Attention to detail and integrity are a few of the core competencies shared between scientific research and the military."

Even with long hours in the lab during the week, Bradke continues to serve as a combat mission ready F-16 instructor pilot.

"If the need arises for the 177th Fighter Wing to deploy to a combat theatre I would volunteer without hesitation," said Bradke. "As for civilian life, after graduation I am beginning a career at Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md., which requires me to combine my fighter pilot experience and mechanical engineering experience as a test and evaluation engineer."

"It certainly requires more sacrifice than the typical 9 to 5, but with the right priorities, it is doable," said Bradke. "For me, it is about being able to pursue all the things I am passionate about: science, technology, flying and serving the community."