Minneola Native helps train the Navy’s best pilots at TOPGUN


by Lt. Bridget Mitchell, Navy Office of Community Outreach  |  FALLON, Nev. – 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 2015 Lake Minneola High School graduate and Minneola, Florida, native is part of the Navy’s finest aviation fighter training facility in the world.

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Rivera. Photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Gary Ward

Petty Officer 3rd Class James Rivera is an intelligence specialist working with the Fleet Intelligence Detachment stationed aboard Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada.

A Navy intelligence specialist is responsible for gathering information and packaging it to brief to commanders.

“Growing up I learned the importance of patience from my mom,” said Rivera. “Patience has let me enjoy the journey and take things step-by-step.”

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.

Rivera plays a crucial role in the overall mission that flies over 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.

Rivera 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 has provided me with a lot of valuable life experience,” added Rivera. “I’m proud of the work I’m doing on a daily basis.”


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