Presentation of the Young Alumni Award by Gregg Luther ’90
Tory Hegrenes came to Luther from Brooklyn Park, Minn., intent on becoming a high school mathematics and physics teacher and coach. Both his parents were teachers. It made perfect sense. He studied, played basketball for the Norse for three years, and even did his student teaching in his senior year, while serving the Norse basketball program as a student coach.
That spring, Tory met a Navy recruiter at a Luther job fair. It piqued his interest and something clicked… “I have this one chance to try something completely different,” he thought. Tory applied to Navy Officer Candidate School after graduating in 2001 and was admitted just 11 days before the events of 9/11 unfolded. Most of us remember exactly what we were doing when news of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and the crash of United Flight 93 hit the airwaves. Tory was just beginning his training in Pensacola and it would be two and a half more years before he would “earn his wings.”
In 2003, Tory became a Naval Flight Officer flying an F-14 Tomcat assigned to the “Red Rippers” of Strike Fighter Squadron 11. During this tour he completed a three-month deployment on the aircraft carrier USS George Washington, flying combat missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Tory’s commanders recognized his superior skills and selected him to attend the Navy Fighter Weapons School, more commonly known as TOPGUN, with follow on orders to Strike Fighter Weapons School, Atlantic. He joined the “Jolly Roger’s” of Strike Fighter Squadron 103, serving as the squadron’s WSO Training Officer. He completed a seven-month deployment aboard the aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower supporting Operation Enduring Freedom.
He currently serves as the Safety/Combat readiness department head with the “Fighting Blacklions” of Strike Fighter Squadron 213 in Virginia, and has accumulated over 1,700 flight hours, 275 in combat, logging over 200 arrested landings.
So… What is an “arrested landing?” Aircraft carrier runways are just over 300-feet long. Tory’s FA-18 Super Hornet aircraft is 60-feet long, weighs 20 tons, and can travel at speeds up to Mach 1.9 at altitude (That’s nearly 1,200 mph). On approach to the carrier runway the plane slows to 150 mph and lowers a claw-shaped tailhook at the rear of the aircraft so that it will contact the deck as the wheels touch down. The hook drags along the deck surface until 3 or 4 cables, stretched across the landing area, engage the hook, transferring the inertia of the aircraft, stopping it… rather quickly, in fact. Complicating this delicate maneuver, the instant the plane touches the deck, the pilot must go to full throttle—just in case the tailhook does NOT engage and the aircraft needs to take off again and make another attempt at landing. “That actually happens now and then,” says Tory. Taking off is a piece of cake. A steam-powered catapult in the carrier deck literally “shoots” Tory’s aircraft off the deck from 0 to 165 mph in 2.5 seconds, and Tory confesses, “That’s probably the most fun part of the job.”
Lieutenant Commander Hegrenes has received numerous decorations including two Strike Flight air medals, two Navy Commendation medals, the Navy Achievement medal, the National Defense Service medal, The Afghanistan Campaign medal, and the Global War on Terror Service medal. And last year he was named the Commander, Naval Atlantic Air Forces Atlantic Naval Flight Officer of the Year. Tory’s commanding officer nominated Tory for “his success in teaching, mentoring managing and leading his subordinates and peers…” and describes him as “an exceptional Naval Officer… peerless… a consummate professional, accomplished tactician, and a natural leader.” Rear Admiral R.J. O’Hanlon in his citation wrote, “Through his distinctive accomplishments, perseverance, and steadfast devotion to duty, Lieutenant Hegrenes reflected credit upon himself and is richly deserving… of this prestigious award.”
Tory Hegrenes is an outstanding representative for all Luther faculty, staff, students and alumni who have served our country. We recognize their collective sacrifice, their heroism and their commitment to preserving the freedoms we hold so dear. Tory was called to serve his country as an aviator, and he is the very best there is. For the way in which Tory exemplifies the Luther mission statement “to serve with distinction for the common good,” for his willingness to stretch his learning beyond his immediate interests into a broader knowledge of a larger world and for his commitment to connecting life’s work with service, we recognize Tory Hegrenes, class of 2001, with Luther’s Young Alumni Award.