Alum Matt Lanese Sends
American Flag Home to MCCC from Iraq
Windsor, N.J. - When army helicopter pilot Matt Lanese '01
(A.A.S., Aviation Flight Technology) mailed an American flag
home to Mercer County Community College from Iraq in late
2009, he was observing a new army tradition. "We place
the flag on the glare shield (dashboard) of the helicopter
and fly with it for the day. Then the crew members sign a
certificate from the company and we send it to people we care
about," Lanese explains.
As documented on the certificate, during its day in the air
on November 19, 2009, Mercer's flag went many places. With
Lanese at the helm, it traveled from Al Kut in eastern Iraq
to Ad Diwaniyah in south central Iraq, to a military base
near Baghdad, on to Baghdad proper, and then back to Ad Diwaniyah
and Al Kut.
Now, back in New Jersey after his second deployment, Lanese
says that sending the flag to the college was a "no brainer,"
Lanese said, adding that he has done it only four times, the
others being for relatives and friends.
Matt Lanese, left, with MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue
and Aviation Program Coordinator Joe Blasenstein at the MCCC
hangar at Trenton-Mercer Airport. The flag, which will be
displayed in a prominent spot on the college's West Windsor
campus, accompanied Lanese and his crew on a daylong mission
was a really big part of my life for four years. I still stop
in when I can and always ask about staff and other alumni. There's
not another program like it." Lanese looks back on his
experience at Mercer as a "great time, probably the most
fun I've had flying." He earned his degree in Aviation
Flight Technology with honors in 2001.
These days, his mission is far more serious. Lanese's tours
in Iraq included a year-long deployment from 2008-09 as a UH-60
Black Hawk helicopter instructor pilot and a second eight-month
tour from which he returned in February.
Lanese felt the call to military service from a young age, first
serving as an army infantryman and then in the National Guard.
Ultimately he decided to pursue aviation, a love affair that
began in childhood. "My first time behind the controls
was on a fishing trip in Canada when I was 8 years old,"
he recalls. "My dad put me in the front seat of a De Havilland
Beaver Float plane. When we got to cruise altitude, the pilot
let me fly for awhile. I pretty much loved airplanes from that
point on, but I thought bad eyesight would prevent me from flying.
It wasn't until after high school that I learned that was all
a myth," he said.
Originally from Hillsborough, Lanese first attended Raritan
Valley College, but knew that Mercer was the place
to go for aviation. With tuition paid for through the National
Guard, he began classes at MCCC in spring 1999 alongside fellow
students equally passionate about flying. "It was a good
mix of students," he recalled. "Some already had their
Lanese is full of praise for his MCCC instructors. "All
my professors were fantastic ," he says. He recalls Program
Coordinator Joe Blasenstein and instructor Diane Loving as "smart
and technically oriented. They kept us all under control and
headed in the right direction." Also stellar were faculty
members Jerry Kuhl and Joan Jones.
Lanese continued his aviation training after graduation, earning
several flight certifications, including commercial pilot and
flight instructor. By the age of 23, he was teaching with his
former instructor, Diane Loving, at the Trenton-Mercer Airport.
He considers himself fortunate to have been hired. "This
was right after Sept. 11, 2001, when the industry was laying
According to Lanese, he gave much to his students and got much
in return. "I logged approximately 1500 hours in the air.
I learned a lot about flying and maintenance and the details
of the way things are run." He notes he also developed
management and interpersonal skills. "I really learned
how to deal with people. With regard to teaching, Diane used
to say, 'It's a continual lesson in practical psychology, recognizing
students' barriers and what it takes for them to learn.'"
Lanese recalls never feeling anything but safe in the air. "The
airplanes practically fly themselves, they are so stable. Just
look at the program's unblemished safety record."
After working at Mercer, Lanese decided he was ready to apply
to the Army Warrant Officer Flight Training program. "It's
a very competitive program. Because of my extensive experience
- as a commercial pilot and an MCCC instructor with many hours
in flight - I was selected." In his army training, Lanese
learned how to pilot a helicopter and graduated first in his
class from the Army's Flight School in Fort Rucker, AL, in 2004.
With countless hours of preparation behind him, Lanese was deployed
to Iraq in 2008 and spent a full year as a UH-60 Black Hawk
helicopter instructor pilot. "Each of the Army's aviation
units operates like a business," he says, with instructor
pilots and crew members. "We provide the oversight to make
sure there are no cowboys out there and that operations are
being carried out according to Army protocol."
As an air mission commander in charge of multiple aircraft,
Lanese acknowledges that he had a lot of responsibility. "It's
where I tested all the things I learned," he says. "We
are considered the tactical and technical experts - where the
rubber meets the road. The foundation for that began at MCCC.
I learned the right way to do things and how to make sound judgments.
I learned it flying around New Jersey."
Lanese flew many missions, mostly involving battlefield circulation,
where he and his crew transported people and equipment around
the country, often to and from Baghdad. He recalls his experience
in Iraq as "a different world. As an aviator you see things
from a distance. It can be boring at times, exciting at other
"I feel really privileged to be able to go over and see
for myself what's happening," he continued. "It makes
me a better individual having seen and experienced this. I feel
lucky to be able to do it and to do it flying."
While in Iraq, Lanese was determined to continue his college
studies, learning online through Thomas Edison State College.
He recalls the discipline this required. "It was tough
while overseas, spending days on missions and then returning
to base to study at night." With a combination of credits
for life experience and general education classes in management,
public speaking and more, he earned his bachelor's degree in
Aviation Flight Technology in 2009.
Between deployments, Lanese returned to Fort Rucker to attend
a Black Hawk Maintenance Test Pilot course. After his latest
homecoming in February, he began working for the New Jersey
Counter-Drug Task Force. "We fly to support state and local
law enforcement agencies," he explains. He also lands his
helicopter at schools as part of the D.A.R.E. program. The wow
factor works, he maintains. "It's high visibility and the
kids love it."
Qualified as both an airplane and helicopter pilot, and as an
instructor in both, Lanese is at the top of his game. "I
plan to continue in the army and perhaps earn another degree,"
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