HILL AIR FORCE BASE — There’s no precise data on this, but of the hundreds of fighter pilots who have come through Hill Air Force Base over the years, it’s probably safe to assume only one of them has been able to see his family’s farm from the cockpit.
But oftentimes, when Lt. Col. Jason “NAILS” Chugg flies a sortie in his F-35, that’s exactly what happens.
Chugg is a pilot with Hill’s 388th Fighter Wing. He’s part of the wing’s Operations Support Squadron but flies with the 34th Fighter Squadron. Known as the “Rude Rams,” the squadron is one of the Air Force’s most historic, and can be traced all the way back to World War II, when it was first activated on Oct. 15, 1944 at Seymour Johnson Field, N.C.
Now one of three F-35 fighter squadrons at Hill, the 34th deployed to the Middle East area in October 2019 and returned home in June and July of this year.
Before his December 2004 commission in the Air Force, Chugg essentially spent his entire life in Weber County. Born and raised. He attended Weber High School for two years, but then finished his high school career at Fremont High School, graduating in 1995.
When Fremont opened, a large portion of former Weber students migrated to the Plain City high school. The rivalry between the two schools has maintained its intensity for 25 years now.
Chugg is somewhat diplomatic when discussing where his loyalties lie.
“I’d probably have to go with my alma mater,” he says. “But I’m the youngest in my family, so I grew up with a family that all went to Weber High and that’s where I met my wife, so I’m fond of Weber too.”
After high school, Chugg served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Germany. He graduated from Weber State University and the University of Utah’s ROTC program. Initially, he thought he might want to go into medicine and also considered a career in construction. He ultimately decided those paths weren’t for him and at the age of 28, joined the Air Force.
His grandfather served in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II and was held for a time as a prisoner of war in a prison camp in the German province of Lower Silesia. Chugg’s father-in-law was an Air Force officer who retired at the rank of colonel. He was also a fighter pilot and flew the F-4, then the A-10, and flew more than 100 combat missions in Vietnam in the F-4.
The family history, the events of 9/11 and growing up around Hill all contributed to Chugg’s decision to join the service.
“Having Hill Air Force Base here and seeing the F-16s flying around was part of it,” Chugg said. “I remember we would go to my grandpa’s house in Roy and watch the air show from his roof.”
Chugg says from the outset, he knew he wanted to be a pilot. When he first joined the Air Force, the service required those vying for pilot slots to first get a traditional, private pilot license. He did that while stationed at Hill on what was known as casual status.
He eventually completed an exchange program, training with the Navy at Whiting Field in Florida. He said learning to fly in the Navy style, tailored to short approach take-offs and landings on aircraft carriers, hamstrung him a little when he went to Air Force training at a base in Oklahoma.
“I remember my instructor saying, ‘Why do you land the way you do?’” Chugg said, chuckling at the memory. “I kind of had to relearn a lot of stuff.”
Eventually, Chugg started flying F-16s. He even flew them at Hill between 2008 and 2010. During that stint, he had a daughter born with some significant health issues involving her heart.
Prior to that stint at Hill, Chugg says he and his wife Heather would have preferred to see the world, and maybe be stationed somewhere overseas. He calls the assignment to Hill a “blessing in disguise” because it was the perfect situation for his daughter — close to family and close to the world class Primary Children’s Hospital.
After a brief assignment to Korea, during which his family stayed back in the states, Chugg went to work as an F-16 instructor at Luke Air Force Base in Arizona in 2011. He said Phoenix also had the medical infrastructure needed for his daughter.
He transitioned to the F-35 in 2015 and eventually landed back at Hill last year.
“It’s been really nice,” says the pilot’s wife, Heather Chugg. “We’re around people we’ve known forever and it’s really good to have our four kids be so close to their grandparents.”
Chugg says he’s not certain how long he’ll remain at Hill, but he’s savoring the moment while he’s back home.
“It’s been really cool — I don’t know how else to say it,” he said. “You know, with the military lifestyle you don’t get to see your family as much as you’d like. But right now, almost every time I fly, on the way back I can see Fremont, I can see our family’s farm. There are quite a few times where I’ll say to myself, ‘Wow. You gotta be kidding me.’”
Chugg has a humble, easy going way about him, and during his interview with the Standard-Examiner, he asked nearly as many questions as he answered. He was somewhat reluctant to be featured in his hometown newspaper, but said he hopes his story might inspire someone else.
“If anything, I hope maybe somebody can look at my story and say, ‘Well, if a dumb farm boy from Farr West can become a fighter pilot ... .’”