Homegrown pilot flying high

“Grinch” takes command of new unit


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U.s. air force photo/senior airman scott saldukas Lt. Col. Robert Finch speaks during the activation ceremony for the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat March 13, 2013, at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan. The unit, which flys the E-11A, was previously designated as the 451st Tactical Airborne Gateway. Finch is the 430th EECS commander.

U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Scott Saldukas

A pilot from Eagle River has reached new heights in his career with the U.S. Air Force.

Lt. Col. Rob “Grinch” Finch is commander of the 430th Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, which has been operating in Afghanistan since 2009.

“I’ve been out here as detachment commander for about five months, ever since they activated the squadron,” Finch said by phone from Afghanistan recently.

According to the Air Force, Finch’s unit flies the E-11A, which provides radio connectivity for both airborne and surface operators. The unit was formerly known as the 451st Tactical Airborne Gateway.

Finch’s squadron includes a variety of planes ranging from fighters like the F-15 and F-16 to bombers like the B-2.

Finch was born in Palmer and grew up in Eagle River. He attended Homestead Elementary, Gruening Junior High and Chugiak High — where during his senior year he was elected homecoming king. He also played soccer, basketball and ran cross country for the Mustangs.

Much of Finch’s family still lives in the area, including his father, Louis, and three brothers.

He graduated from the University of Idaho in 1994 and shortly after attended Embry Riddle University, where he got his Master’s in Aviation Safety. From there he attended pilot training in Texas, then became a B-52 pilot. Since then, he’s flown the B-2 stealth bomber and the E-11.

“I think things have lined up pretty fortunate for me to progress the way I have,” he said.

Finch said he loves flying, and hopes to return to Alaska to continue his career when he leaves the military.

“Every time I fly on Alaska Airlines I think, ‘I’d sure like to do that some day,’” he said.

Finch is married with two children. If all goes according to plan, he said he’d love to settle back in the town where he grew up.

“Hopefully someday,” he said.

Finch returns to Alaska as often as he can, helping out on his family’s commercial fishing sites in Bristol Bay and Cook Inlet.

“I get up every summer I can,” he said.

Although his nickname “Grinch” conjures up images of a cranky character, Finch said the name was given to him during pilot training and just stuck.

“Maybe some of the mornings I wasn’t the happiest customer,” he joked.

Despite the fact he’s a squadron commander, the former Chugiak homecoming king said he’s actually a pretty laid back guy.

“I’m kinda the anti-Grinch,” he said. “Usually I have a pretty postitive attitude.”

 

Contact Matt Tunseth at 694-2727 or matt.tunseth@alaskastar.com.

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