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Afterburners on perfect landing

After 25 years as a military pilot, Lake Oswego's Mark Dunham is eager to begin his post-flight life
by: submitted photos Lt. Col. Mark Dunham is saying goodbye to the wild blue yonder after concluding his 25-year career as a U.S. military pilot. He will no longer do fly-bys for the Lake Oswego 4th of July Parade.

Military Lt. Col. Mark Dunham flew hundreds of missions in his 25-year career as a jet pilot for the U.S. Navy and Oregon Air National Guard, but the mission most appreciated in Lake Oswego always came on the Fourth of July.

'I always did the flybys for the parade,' said Dunham. 'Lake Oswego wasn't on the flyby list, but I was able to fly by for the Fourth of July Parade.'

Dunham liked doing this favor for his hometown of the past 16 years, but recently Dunham himself was favored with recognition for his sterling 25-year career as a military flyer.

'It was a fabulous retirement party,' praised Mike Kehoe, Dunham's friend and neighbor.

The ceremonial aspect of the event was especially impressive. Fellow officers lined up and talked about each phase and promotion of Dunham's career, passing the American flag as they went along.

'At the end, they handed me the flag,' Dunham said.

He has come a long way from the kid who grew up in Portland and attended Grant High School. Dunham used to watch the Air National Guard fly over the Columbia River.

'I thought that was pretty cool,' he said.

So cool that he decided to become a flyer, first serving 10 years with the U.S. Navy, then shifting to the Oregon Air National Guard.

A flying career was not just a youthful enthusiasm for Dunham. He 'clicked' from the very start and steadily rose through the ranks and received many important assignments.

The memories are many, like flying in Desert Storm. His many missions included escorting Striker jets, reconnaissance missions and searching for Iraqi aircraft.

'There was danger,' Dunham said, 'but they train you real well.'

Sept. 11, 2001, found Dunham relaxing at home in Lake Oswego when he suddenly received orders to fly.

'They activated all pilots,' Dunham said. 'On Sept. 12, I was flying combat air patrol. It was really eerie. No one else was flying.'

It has been a rewarding career and a good life, as Dunham and his wife, Lori, have raised three children. The only down note is that Dunham can no longer do the flyovers in Lake Oswego on the Fourth of July.

'It's harder than ever to do flyby's,' he said, shaking his head. 'Lake Oswego probably won't be getting any more.'

Still, Dunham is eager to move on to the next phase of his life. His flyover at his retirement party may have been the last flight of his life.

'I'm ready to turn the page and try something else,' he said. 'I'm unsure whether it will involve flying or not, but if not, I'm ready to try something else.

'I will always be a big believer in the U.S. military. It's a well-intentioned, hard-working group of great people.'