ALS warrior honored as 159th Fighter Squadron Honorary Commander

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  • By Courtesy Story
  • 125th Fighter Wing

JACKSONVILLE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Fla. – On Oct. 17, 2021, the 159th Fighter Squadron inducted its first honorary commander, Capt. (ret.) Cole “Twitch” Holloway, a former F-15C Eagle fighter pilot, during an induction ceremony held at the 125th Fighter Wing.

Holloway’s promising career in the U.S. Air Force was tragically cut short in 2018 when he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis – better known as ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease — a progressive degenerative disease that affects the nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, and to which there is no known cause or cure.

“An ALS diagnosis is much less a single event and more a series of realizations, each one lessening the blow of the tragic weight of the situation,” Holloway said in a speech during the ceremony. “And yet in the military, it is not as if we are unfamiliar with death. Having lived out my own death in countless exercises, emergency checklists, and simulations I was uniquely prepared, as war fighters are, to face the eventual reality of my mortality.”

Holloway’s path to aviation was born out of fate after growing up in a military family composed mostly of aviators – most notably, his father. With the help of many mentors, from cargo pilots to helicopter pilots, Holloway realized his dream to not only be a pilot, but more specifically a fighter pilot.

With a clear vision of what he desired, Holloway joined the ROTC program at the University of Central Florida and was quickly recognized as a leader among his peers where he commanded a group of over 100 cadets.

In 2016, he attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Base in Oklahoma City where he later received his assignment to fly the mighty F-15C Eagle. In February of 2017, Holloway’s path brought him to Klamath Falls, Oregon – the all-too-familiar home of the F-15C B-Course –where he proudly earned his wings.

Later that year, Holloway and his wife Meghan packed up their belongings and moved to Okinawa, Japan. There, Holloway began his lifelong dream behind the stick of the F-15C Eagle flying with the 67th Fighter Squadron Fighting Cocks at Kadena Air Base.

The couple adapted quickly to life on the island. They made it their mission to host every newcomer to the island for a welcome dinner to help them navigate the early days of life in Okinawa.

By May of 2018, Holloway had been given his tactical call sign. Now known affectionately as “Twitch” Holloway, he flew his longest sortie to date at his first Red Flag Alaska. Throughout his time flying for the Fighting Cocks, Holloway treasured many TDYs perfecting his craft and building lifelong friendships with the squadron — from the flight line in Okinawa to Alaska and Guam.

“I loved Okinawa and loved being an Eagle Driver even more,” he said.

However after less than a year on the island, Holloway began to notice slight muscle weakness in his left hand while typing or playing video games. As time went on, his symptoms progressed and he was faced with the tough decision to seek medical attention.

In October 2018, doctors confirmed Holloway’s suspicions and the ALS diagnosis soon followed. Knowing this diagnosis made him ineligible to fly, Holloway was forced to medically retire from the Air Force at the young age of 27. He flew his last Eagle sortie later that month and by December, the Holloway’s had packed their belongings and moved back to the United States.

“Twitch continues to live a full life with a true warrior spirit,” said Lt. Col. Daniel Schiller, 159th Fighter Squadron commander. “It is for this reason that there was no better choice than ‘Twitch’ to become the first Honorary Squadron Commander of the 159th Fighter Squadron, Boxin’ Gators! His strength and dedication is an example to all of us that life is lived best when surrounded by the people and mission you love. ‘Twitch’ continues to represent himself honorably putting service before self and continuing to push others to achieve excellence beyond their known abilities.”

Today, the Holloway’s reside in Ponte Vedra, Florida and have become an integral part of the 159th Fighter Squadron, routinely hosting gatherings at their home. This deeply-rooted connection to the local fighter community has only been strengthened by his distinction to serve as the squadron’s honorary commander.

“The 159th Boxing Gators are the leading edge of American military power and I am extremely proud to receive this honor,” he concluded.