Sumter native serves in Navy's TOPGUN program


FALLON, Nevada - In Nevada's high desert is the Navy's premiere tactical air warfare training center, home to the Naval Aviation Warfighting Development Center and it's Strike Fighter Tactics Instructor program, known to the world as TOPGUN.

A 1999 Crestwood High School graduate and Sumter native is part of the Navy's finest aviation fighter training facility in the world.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Dwight Nelson is an aviation machinist's mate working with the Strike Fighter Wing Pacific Detachment stationed aboard Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

A Navy aviation machinist's mate is responsible for maintaining the engines and the fuel systems for aircraft.

"My father served in the Army for 23 years," said Nelson. "I was accustomed to the military life from an early age, and it's served me well in my Navy career."

TOPGUN began 48 years ago with the determination of nine pilots, the skepticism of the government and almost no budget as history would recall. In the early years it turned the tide of a losing air war in Vietnam, revolutionized military doctrine, inspired a Hollywood blockbuster and attracted and trained the best allied pilots and air crew from all over the world.

Nelson plays a crucial role in the overall mission that flies more than 5,000 adversary sorties per year in support of the Navy and Marine Corp Active and Reserve fleet and replacement squadrons, carrier air wings and marine aircraft groups including the United States Air Force, Air Force Reserve and Air National guard and Canadian Forces.

"Nowhere in the world does the Navy have the ability to train as we do in NAS Fallon," said NAS Fallon Commanding Officer, Capt. David Halloran. "The Navy specifically chose NAS Fallon as the location for Top Gun and the Naval Special Warfare Tactical Ground Mobility Training Center because of the desert climate, mountainous terrain, and sophisticated ranges available in northern Nevada. Every Carrier Air Wing and Navy Seal Team is required to receive the essential training provided here prior to being deployed in theater."

According to Navy officials, TOPGUN is highly competitive and exposes Navy and Marine Corp pilots to the most demanding training scenarios in fighter aviation lead by some of the most talented pilots in the world. Each pilot is hand-selected for air-to-air and air-to-ground training and subsequently, as a TOPGUN instructor.

"In addition to my father serving in the Army, I have cousins in the Navy," said Nelson explaining that military service is a family tradition. "I'm proud to have excelled quickly in my career as well as being awarded two Navy Achievement Medals."

Nelson also said they are proud to serve at the center of excellence for naval aviation, training and tactics development.

The future of U.S. aviation depends on the Navy's ability to achieve their vision for defeating tomorrow's air threats with the support of the ground crews and pilots.

"Serving in the Navy is a way to provide for my family, a chance to experience new things and to continue a family legacy of military service," added Nelson.