Lt. Col. Dean Eckmann enlisted in the North Dakota Air National Guard in March of 1986 as a traditional Guardsman (part-time). Eckmann served in the 119th Civil Engineer Squadron as a heavy equipment operator. He studied at the Center for Aerospace Sciences at the University of North Dakota, graduating in 1990 with a degree in Aeronautical Studies. As a student he flew a variety of Cessna, Mooney, and Piper general aviation aircraft.
Eckmann was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in September of 1992 and attended military flight training at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas (Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training). He returned to the 119th Fighter Wing as an F-16 pilot in August of 1994 and logged more than 2,500 flight hours in the F-16, in addition to flight time in T-37 and T-38 flight trainers. Eckmann is rated as a Command Pilot and had several additional duties including squadron flight commander, safety officer, alert scheduler and supervisor of flying. He was one of three pilots scrambled from the 119th Fighter Wing Alert Detachment, Langley Air Force Base, Virginia, the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, for the defense of the Washington D.C. metropolitan area.
The unit transitioned from the F-16 to MQ-1 Predator in late 2006. Eckmann was one of the first to convert to the new mission. He has logged more than 2,900 hours of combat time while serving as a flight commander, operations supervisor, chief of scheduling, plans and airspace officer.
Prior to being called to active military duty, Eckmann was a full-time Boeing 727 pilot with Northwest Airlines, now Delta Airlines. Eckmann is originally from Hettinger, N.D., and now lives in Fargo.