Honor, Respect, Devotion to Duty: Lt. Cmdr. Eric Oliphant

Written by Aux. Trey Clifton

Lt. Cmdr. Eric Oliphant, a pilot currently stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was selected as the 2015 Order of Daedalians Exceptional Pilot Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

Lt. Cmdr. Eric Oliphant, a pilot currently stationed at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Elizabeth City, North Carolina, was selected as the 2015 Order of Daedalians Exceptional Pilot Award. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

It was in the city of Coppers Cove in central Texas that Lt. Cmdr. Eric Oliphant entered the world. From day one, aviation and service to country have been a part of his life. The son of an aviation chief warrant officer in the Army, Oliphant’s earliest memories entail not only air travel with his family but visits to Fort Hood to see the aircraft where his dad was stationed.

Wanting to follow in his father’s footsteps, Oliphant knew military aviation was his destiny, that somewhere there was a pair of aviation wings waiting for him. After high school, Oliphant attended college on a Naval ROTC scholarship. However, there were no guaranteed careers in aviation. He had to wait until his senior year, and even then, it was based on availability and class rank.

“I knew I wanted to fly,” said Oliphant. “At one point, I almost quit college to go the warrant officer route in the Army because those guys didn’t need their degree.”

It was at that point a good friend told him about a Marine Corps program. Through this program, he would be guaranteed a career in aviation. As long as he passed the qualification test and graduated college, he would be sent straight to flight school. Oliphant was all in.

After getting accepted into the Marine Corps program, Oliphant dropped his Naval ROTC scholarship, graduated college and entered Marine Corps flight school. It was a good time for Oliphant in many regards. He met a young lady who would eventually become his wife, graduated college and completed flight school, finally earning him his wings. He was a winged Devil Dog.

Having married and started a family, the decision to transition to the Coast Guard was a personal one.

“While I loved the camaraderie and being deployed, I had young kids – I was gone for thirteen out of fourteen months and missed the first year of my daughter’s life,” said Oliphant.

He did the best he could, but even communicating from the ship he was stationed on proved difficult. With his dedication to his family, Oliphant decided to transfer to the Coast Guard.

“It definitely paid off, It’s been a great transition,” he said.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

Having flown the CH-53E Super Stallion in the Marine Corps, Oliphant’s preference was rotary aircraft. Since there wasn’t a particular shortage of pilots for either airframe when he transitioned, that’s exactly what he got. Although initially flying the MH-65 Dolphin at Coast Guard Air Station Houston, Texas, Oliphant spent most of his flight time in the cockpit of the HH-60 Jayhawk.

His skill at the controls has not gone unnoticed. Oliphant is a member of the Order of Daedalians, a fraternal organization of military aviators who take their name from the Greek legend of Daedalus. As an order whose primary mission includes recognizing exceptional performance, Oliphant was honored as the 2015 Exceptional Aviator for his role in saving a sailboat crew 140 nautical miles off the North Carolina coast. With a burned out search light, 40 knot winds and 14 foot seas, complicated further by the boat’s masts waving furiously, Oliphant deployed a swimmer, recovered all four crewmen from the sailboat and returned everyone safely to base.

“The search and rescue cases that are the most difficult are the ones that are the most rewarding because you don’t always know you’ll be able to accomplish them,” Oliphant said. “I loved flying in the Marine Corps, but compared to picking someone up who’s in peril and bringing them home safely, there’s nothing that compares to that.”

While there’s a tendency to become complacent over time, Oliphant tries to remember his role in the mission may mean the difference between life and death for the person he’s trying to help.

With a successful career doing what he loves and with more time to invest with the people he loves, Oliphant happily admits to spending most all of his time with his family when he’s not in the cockpit.

“When I’m not at work, I’m pretty much going to be at one of my kids’ events,” said Oliphant.

With a daughter in high school involved in cross country and band and a son in junior high school who enjoys lacrosse and scouting, there’s always something to do.

Oliphant’s family is also active in their church. “I’m a Christian, and church is big in our lives,” he said. “Sunday’s are devoted to God. My spiritual life and my family life takes up every ounce of time I have outside of work.”

Throughout his career, whether it was as an aviator flying offense in the Marine Corps or defense in the Coast Guard, a father watching his kids on the sports field, or as a husband sitting next to his wife on a church pew, Oliphant embodies the truest meaning of the Coast Guard’s core values of honor, respect and devotion to duty.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

U.S. Coast Guard photo by Auxiliarist Trey Clifton.

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