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‘This couple has made history’: First husband-wife B-2 pilots retire together

Col. Jared Kennish, left, stands next to Lt. Cols. John and Jennifer Avery during their joint retirement from the Missouri Air National Guard, Sept 7, 2018, at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo. The Averys married on Feb. 5, 2005, becoming the first husband and wife team to fly the B-2 Stealth bomber. (Tech. Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel/U.S. Air Force)
September 20, 2018

Lt. Col. John Avery and Lt. Col. Jennifer Avery, the first pair of married pilots to fly the B-2, retired together this month at Whiteman Air Force Base, Mo.

“It’s an honor to speak as John and Jennifer Avery retire from the Air Force, just as it was to speak at their wedding,” said Col. Jared Kennish, the 131st Bomb Wing Operations Group commander, at the pair’s joint retirement ceremony on Sept. 7, according to an Air Force statement. “This couple has made history.”

Both served for 20 years, John retiring with more than 2,500 flying hours and Jennifer retiring with more than 1,600 flying hours in the active-duty Air Force and Missouri Air National Guard.

Jennifer was the first female B-1 pilot to go to combat, with four sorties over Kosovo in support of Operation Allied Force in 1999, according to the Air Force. Her first flight in a B-2 in 2002 made her the first woman to fly the B-2 stealth bomber (since then, seven more women have become B-2 pilots and others are now in training). In 2003, she became the first woman to fly the B-2 in combat, in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. She remains the only woman to have flown the B-2 in combat.

John earned his pilot wings in 2000, and was stationed at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D., to fly the B-1. He and Jennifer began dating, and less than six months later, she left to fly the B-2.

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“I wanted to fly the B-2 because that was the plane my future wife was going to fly,” John said in an Air Force statement. “That, and it’s without a doubt the world’s most elite aircraft. As a pilot, there’s nothing more rewarding.”

Air Force regulations don’t let married couples fly in the same plane with each other, though John and Jennifer did fly together in a T-38 training jet before they were married.

In 2007, Jennifer decided to leave her active-duty career. First, she worked as a civilian at Whiteman and then she joined the Missouri Air National Guard, flying the B-2. John transitioned to the Missouri Air National Guard in 2008, becoming part of the first group of guardsmen to fly the B-2. He was the first guardsman to fly the B-2 in combat, during a 2011 sortie over Libya in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn. He was also the first Air National Guard member to attend B-2 Weapon Instructor School.

The family, including son Austin, 12, and daughter Elizabeth, 9, moved to Boise, Idaho. John flies for FedEx and Jennifer works as a Defense Department consultant. Now they can look back on the ups and downs of military life.

“We did it. All the way through,” Jennifer said. “Together.”

Since Jennifer and John tied the knot, two other married couples have gone on to fly the B-2.

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© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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