Commander Ahren “Swacket” Thornton — a native of Emporia — relieved Cmdr. John “Crank” Kollar as commanding officer of the “Rangers” of Training Squadron 28 during an aerial change-of-command ceremony above Naval Air Station Corpus Christi on Oct. 3.
Kollar led the formation of two T-6B Texan II aircraft before a crowd of squadron members, friends and family below until he passed command of the Rangers to Thornton, who took lead as the new commanding officer. Kollar will retire after 20 years of honorable naval service.
A ground-based ceremony followed during which Kollar thanked the Rangers for their hard work and dedication to the mission of training naval aviators. He asked all service members and veterans to stand, describing them as “humble, respectful, loving and loved people,” and explained their American patriotism.
“I’m not sure how the dictionary defines a hero, but you need to know that all these people here are my heroes,” Kollar said.
Commodore, Training Air Wing 4 Capt. Kevin Delano, from Sanger, California, served as guest speaker and spoke of Kollar’s unwavering commitment to the Navy, its sailors, and their families. Delano presented Kollar with a Meritorious Service Medal in recognition of his accomplishments during his tour.
VT-28 is a primary undergraduate flight training squadron in which students learn to fly the T-6B Texan II aircraft. Completion of this rigorous syllabus culminates with students receiving orders to intermediate and advanced training squadrons to continue their training in strike, helicopter or maritime aircraft.
Thornton, a native of Emporia, served as VT-28’s executive officer since Aug. 2018. He said he is proud to take command of the squadron and attributed its success to Kollar’s steadfast leadership and the drive of squadron personnel.
“All of our remarkable achievements would not have been possible without the culture … planted by those who came before us,” Thornton said. “It was nurtured by each and every instructor and student naval aviator that passed through these doors.”
Thornton graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy in May 2001 with a Bachelor of Science in oceanography. He earned his Wings of Gold in Aug. 2003 and reported to the “Golden Hawks” of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 112 at Naval Air Station Point Mugu, California. He deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson in 2005 and again in 2007 aboard aircraft carrier USS John C. Stennis in support of Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom. Thornton was named West Coast Hawkeye Pilot of the Year in 2007.
Thornton served with the “Greyhawks” of VAW-120 at NAS Norfolk, where he became an E-2C instructor pilot and earned his landing signals officer training qualification. In Feb. 2011, Thornton reported to Carrier Air Wing 1 aboard aircraft carrier USS Enterprise, where he completed two combat deployments as a staff-qualified LSO and carrier air group safety officer in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and counter-piracy operations in the North Arabian Sea.
Thornton also served with the “Sun Kings” of VAW-116, where he completed his department head tour. Afterwards, he reported to the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth for Joint Professional Military Education training, and simultaneously earned his Master of Science in adult and continuing education from Kansas State University. In June 2016, Thornton reported to Commander, Naval Air Force U.S. Pacific Fleet in San Diego where he served as part of the Navy V-22 Osprey Integrated Transition Team before reporting to VT-28. He has accumulated more than 3,000 military flight hours and over 360 CVN arrested landings.
Kollar assumed command of VT-28 in Aug. 2018. During his tenure, VT-28 was the lead production squadron of student naval aviators in primary flight training. A native of Winnetka, Illinois, Kollar is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and holds a degree in astronautical engineering. He earned his Wings of Gold in Nov. 2002 and served with the “Zappers” of Electronic Attack Squadron 130 where he deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, in 2006 in support of U.S. Pacific Command airborne electronic attack requirements. Kollar graduated from U.S. Navy Test Pilot School in June 2008 after which he reported to Test and Evaluation Squadron 23. There, he crewed with Lt. Cmdr. Thomas Weaver and conducted the world’s first supersonic bio-fuel flight operations.
Kollar served with the “Rooks” of VAQ-137, Joint Functional Component Command Space, and graduated with honors from Johns Hopkins University, earning a Master of Science in complex systems engineering before reporting to VT-28 as executive officer in 2017. He has accumulated more than 2,500 flight hours in 29 different aircraft, and more than 240 carrier-arrested landings in the EA-6B and EA-18G.
Cmdr. Brian “Bearclaw” Higgins, a native of Atlanta, assumed the role of VT-28 executive officer.
VT-28, headquartered in Corpus Christi, shapes the future of Naval Aviation, producing the world’s finest primary student naval aviators prepared to excel in follow-on training and the fleet.