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Cloquet native lands in Washington D.C.

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Cloquet native Casey Eaton fell in love with airplanes when he was a young boy and his uncle took him out to the tiny Cloquet airport.

Eaton has come a long way since then.

Now Colonel Eaton, he is Commander of Air Force One and — among many other duties — the guy who greets the President of the United States and his spouse when they fly in and out of Washington D.C.

"My direct interaction is ceremonial," Eaton said.

A small but important part of Eaton's job as commander is greeting the president at the bottom of the air stairs and escorting him from Marine One to Air Force One and back again. Eaton's wife, Lisa, greets the president's wife when she is traveling with the president.

Eaton started his job during President Obama's time in office and he will continue to serve under President Trump.

"We pride ourselves in just talking about normal things. It's a quiet moment in between his (the president's) normal political appointments," he explained in a phone interview with the Pine Journal last week. "I talk about the plane, family, weather and the Super Bowl is coming up. I am a little bit of a Vikings fan but am also a big Cowboys fan. President Obama is a fan of all of the Chicago teams and we talked a lot about football."

Eaton went on to say that he usually asks the president how the flight went, if it was comfortable and if there was any way it could be improved.

He completely avoids political and sensitive topics while he is escorting the president.

Eaton was born in Cloquet in 1971 to Barbara and Darrel Eaton. When he was 9, the family moved to Texas.

"At a very young age my uncle brought me up in a Cessna," said Eaton. "I remember telling my dad I wanted to be a pilot."

The small-town boy went from his first flight in a Cessna, to flying almost every large plane there is in the U.S. Air Force, to landing in Washington D.C.

On June 17, 2016, Eaton accepted the honor of becoming Commander of 89th Airlift Wing, home to Air Force One. He oversees 1,200 airmen and civilians in addition to his duties with the president.

The colonel began his military journey in Wichita Falls, Texas, in 1994 and worked his way up through the ranks over the years.

He combined his dream of becoming a pilot with his desire to serve his country, which ended up leading to a successful and fulfilling career.

"Doors continued to open and opportunities presented themselves to continue to serve," explained Eaton. "I never dreamed I would be here."

Eaton sees the president on a regular basis when he flies through and he escorts him when he is in town. If Eaton isn't available, one of his staff members will take over his duties with the president.

Eaton pilots Air Force Two, which carries the vice president. Although he has flown most of the large planes in the Air Force, he does not fly Air Force One.

Instead Eaton leads the mission and oversees it.

"Our goal is to make sure they all have everything they need," Eaton said.

Part of Eaton's job as commander is to make sure the senior leaders can stay connected, stay protected and have everything they would need in an office setting.

He explained Air Force One is a 747 retrofitted "flying White House."

"It's not a luxury airplane, it's designed to be extraordinarily functional," said Eaton. "There's nothing gold plated in there."

As 89th Air Wing commander, Eaton's job is to organize the assigned airmen and civilians, equip and train them to make sure they understand what their job is, and then have all of the tools and training to get the job done.

"Leading them is a little bit frightening as they are so smart, so dedicated and so capable," said Eaton.

Eaton was silent for a long moment while trying to decide which part of his job was his favorite.

"One of my favorite parts of my jobs is to shake airmen's hands and tell them what a special job this is," Eaton thoughtfully said.

He said he likes to inspire the airmen and remind them how important their work is.

"My second favorite is flying airplanes," said Eaton with a laugh. "That's really fun too."

Eaton's two children, Hannah, 14, and Seth, 13, have unique opportunities because of his job also.

Hannah was able to hang out and take selfies with Michelle Obama before the Obamas left the White House.

Eaton was impressed with how gracious Michelle was to his airmen. A week before the inauguration, she set aside one and a half hours to walk the rope line, shake hands, hug people and have her photo taken with the airmen.

"It meant so much," Eaton said.

The Eatons also spent last Christmas at Joe Biden's house and got a photo with Joe and his wife.

Eaton said although he has had many memorable moments, his favorite memory was when he took the commander position. He described it as awesome, humbling and a huge honor.

"When I got to stand in front of my entire wing standing in formation, we had two of the wings airplanes behind me and we were in the hangar," Eaton said.

When he looked out he realized it was his responsibility to lead the airmen in one of the most no-fail missions of the United States Air Force.

"I thought, alright Casey, you're responsible for leading this group, you better bring your A game," Eaton said as he remembered that day.

Although Eaton last visited Cloquet in 1999, he has not forgotten his family. He sent his grandma Doris (Angell) Reed tickets to visit him several times when he was stationed in Hawaii.

Reed still lives in Cloquet with her daughter Kathy Barrett, Eaton's aunt. They last saw Eaton when they visited his mom, Barbara, in Illinois where she lives.

"We have an amazing extended family," Eaton said. "I think every one of us by the number would say we owe it to Grandma Doris and her love, her prayers and her involvement over the years."

For her part, Grandma Doris said she has enjoyed watching her grandson on the television when he escorts the president.

"We've been bubbling over with excitement watching him on TV," said Reed enthusiastically. "He's such a wonderful man, I wish everyone could know him."