PENSACOLA, Fla. — Retired Naval aviator and three-time Blue Angels Boss Greg C. Wooldridge has tossed his flight helmet into the ring for governor of Oregon.
Wooldridge, who earned his wings of gold as a naval pilot in 1971, wants to take an active position in helping his adoptive state advance in becoming a better state, and adds he wants Oregonians to be able to trust government again.
A Portland resident and conservative, Wooldridge has entered into his first ever political campaign, a race which has him gaining ground on the current Republican front runner Rep. Knute Buehler. The Republican Primary is May 15, and its winner will challenge current governor Kate Brown (D-OR) in the gubernatorial election on November 6.
“I am running because I want to save the state,” Wooldridge began during our exclusive interview on Thursday. “We are sinking, and I want to replace the captain of the ship. The ship is up on the rocks and we need to get it into smoother water.”
Under his pilot call sign “Wizard”, Capt. Wooldridge first led the F/A-18 Hornets stationed aboard the U.S.S. Midway during the late-1980s. Today, Wooldridge parallels his run for governor much like the calling he received from the U.S. Navy each time they needed a squadron leader.
“I don’t run from challengers, that’s not been my life — instead I run to challenges,” the former naval aviator continued. “I am a servant leader. I listen then I go into action and I get my team together and we start solving problems and making things better so that Oregonians can realize that exceptionalism exists in this great state.”
Greg Wooldridge, now 70, earned the distinction during the 1990s as the only person to command the Blue Angels for three separate tours. He first lead the flight squadron from 1990 to 1992 during a typical Boss’ two-year tour.
One of Wooldridge’s solo pilots during his first tour was then LCDR John “Gucci” Foley. Today, Foley and his former Boss continue to work together to provide motivational and uplifting discussions to companies and organizations.
“Having flown inches away from Boss as his wing man both in the Blue Angels and business, I know the steady confidence his leadership brings,” Foley confirmed to this aerospace reporter on Thursday. “He unites others in a way that brings out the best in those around him. Greg is exactly what we all need as a Governor.”
In September 1992, Boss Wooldridge led his blue and gold F/A-18 Hornet team over to visit and perform in Russia and seven Euro-Asia countries on the first flight demonstration tour by a western squadron in that region. The tour came one year following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and became a proud moment for the Blue Angels. The Boss spoke highly of their visit to Moscow.
“Flying in Moscow was unbelievable,” he said with big grin. “They welcomed us with open arms and it was a tremendous experience. I got to fly a (Russian Air Force) SU-27 Sukhoi jet, and I took their flight leader up with me in my Hornet, and we got to experience some things that neither one of us never thought we’d do seeing each other countries.”
Wooldridge added that he brought back quite a few memories from that experience, among them was “a clarity that we are more similar than we are different; and that despite what you might hear, we are widely respected throughout the world and we are thought of as quite a great country.”
Commander Wooldridge was called back to serve as Boss the next year for a five month stint after CDR Robert Stumpf was removed from flight duty during the Navy’s investigation of Stumpf’s involvement in the Tailhook scandal of 1991. He was later cleared.
Wooldridge was asked a third time to helm the Blue Angels in 1996 during the squadron’s 50th anniversary season. Then Boss Donnie Cochran resigned in May as he feared his flying was below average and could endanger the team.
“I knew the culture of excellence of the Blue Angels — their team work and the trust — and it made that call back a pleasure to accept,” he explained. “The third time I came back I had not flown in over two years, and I said ‘I may not be able to do this’, and they said for me to give it a try and I did. Because the team pulled together so tightly around me we got it done… we had quite a great season that year.”
Since 1986, Oregon has been a blue state as voters have elected a democrat for governor each time. This year, Wooldridge hopes voters will keep him in mind as a candidate with stronger leadership skills.
“I bring a conservative agenda to take care of small business, and I definitely want families to feel that they can make it here,” he adds. “My leadership is what I bring and my desire to get things done, my passion for doing things, so that’s what I bring to the table.”
When the former Boss was asked if he still attends Blue Angels air shows, he grinned and said, “I do when they are in the area, and I still get a big charge out of it… it is terrific to see them operate and see that level of trust that we had when I was on the team.”
(Charles A. Atkeison reports on aerospace and science. Follow his updates on social media via @Military_Flight.)