By Dolly Rairigh Glass
New Air Force Agency for Modeling and Simulation (AFAMS) Commander, Colonel Bradley “Critter” Crites, grew up in the other surf and sun state on the west coast.
He went to college in California, graduating from the University of California Irvine, earning a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics. Crites participated in the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) through California State University – Long Beach, as one of the “cross-town cadets,” commuting between the two campuses, and was commissioned in 1991.
From an early age, Crites had an interest in flying, wondering, “How do I become a pilot?” And although his path to becoming a pilot wasn’t a direct one, as he was first assigned to Missile Maintenance, he feels that each and every step of his journey has been an important building block, making him who he is today.
Growing up near the beach, Crites enjoyed many outdoor activities, earning a spot on the water polo team as a freshman, participating in the junior lifeguard program during his sophomore year, and receiving his varsity letter in track and cross country in his junior year. But as a young boy, Crites spent a good amount of time shadowing his dad, who raced in the Formula A Series, the precursor for what is known today as the Indy Lights.
“We’d wake up at the crack of dawn, and drive to some big name race tracks like Riverside and Ontario Motor Speedway,” Crites said. “He’d take me out and I’d help him prep, even when I was knee high and I didn’t know what I was doing. I still remember that.” But after a close call with a family friend, and her fear for his safety, Crites’ mom put an end to his dad’s racing, and any chance he had to follow in his dad’s footsteps.
But cars weren’t the only thing “fast” that interested Crites. Watching the early growth of the shuttle program as a middle-schooler, he formed an interest and had aspirations of becoming an astronaut. Crites remembers driving to dinner with his family, looking up into the sky and being intrigued by the thought there was an orbiter shuttle up there.
“That was kind of my first sense that I wanted to be a space shuttle pilot, and it stayed with me. I followed that interest through high school,” Crites said, “and when I met with the guidance counselor about it, I realized that the best avenue to do that would be the military. I did become a pilot, so I got half of that right!”
But Crites’ initial urge to fly came at the same time as the military drawdown in 1992, and instead of pilot school, after a short stint in the civilian world working as a bank teller, he was stationed in Minot, North Dakota, as a Minuteman III Missile Maintenance Officer. It was here that his love for racing was rekindled. Now that he landed his first “good paying job” with the Air Force and could afford his first car, he bought one and raced about two years while there.
“Yes, I did tell my mom,” Crites smiled. “Those karts were so much fun, and would go about 55-60 mph, but it felt like it was faster because you were close to the ground,” he said. “If geared correctly on the back straight, we could hit 100 mph.”
“I really wanted to fly immediately, but through these early assignments, I learned that the Air Force was more than flying,” said Crites of his unorthodox path to flight school. “Looking back, I see how the opportunities I had really helped me develop a well-rounded career.”
After serving for 3 ½ years in Missile Maintenance, and taking advantage of opportunities for growth, Crites earned a place and transitioned to Navy pilot training on T-44’s. “I love the Navy way of training,” Crites said. “They started doing joint training and we were one of the first few classes to do this.” First, Crites was in Corpus Christi, Texas, for Joint Flying Training, and then worked his way up to Weapons & Tactics Officer while flying the AC-130U “Spooky” Gunship at Hurlburt Field in Florida.
And as any good story would go, after only two days of being married, Crites was deployed to Bosnia. About his first mission, Crites said, “Some people said to me that it must have been scary, but I said no, because I was with 12 of my buddies, employing an awesome weapons platform. And really, it’s about being a part of something bigger than yourself.”
Crites then migrated to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base in Arizona to fly the EC-130H “Compass Call” aircraft. While there he served as Assistant Director of Operations, 755th Operations Support Squadron, and was also chosen to serve with the Army as part of Combined Joint Task Force Paladin and Headquarters International Security Assistance Force, Kabul, Afghanistan.
Crites was then selected as the commander of the 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and served four times as a deployed squadron commander of the 41st Expeditionary Electronic Combat Squadron, Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, bringing his combat deployments to twelve.
For Crites, it has always been about the journey. He has used the years of experiences and working with strong leaders to pull together his words to live by, sharing it with those he has mentored throughout his assignments, both flying and non-flying. “Never let them see you sweat,” was one of those common statements that rang true for Crites. “You can overcome and accomplish any task if you know your job and are prepared,” he said.
He also took one, “limit your exposure,” from the pilot’s “manual” because he felt it applied to any job from day-to-day. “It’s about not doing things to draw attention to yourself, but instead paying attention to the details and doing the small things.”
And finally, Crites said it’s very important to take emotions out of decision-making. “My Italian roots and passion initially made that very hard for me, but I realized that you can’t let fear or emotions drive your decisions,” he said. “Because if you do, you’ll overlook something. It’s best to remove yourself and look at the facts.”
As a self-proclaimed Disney fanatic, it’s a safe bet that his emotions, and that of his wife and three children, exuded happiness upon the call for him to report to AFAMS.
“Disney has a special place in my heart, I worked at Disneyland in high school and college, and our family has vacationed in Orlando many times,” Crites said. “But I couldn’t remember hearing about an Air Force command in Orlando, and so I didn’t know much about AFAMS or Team Orlando.”
Crites added, “I quickly realized I was uniquely suited for this mission because in most of my previous jobs, I’ve been involved with training and supporting the warfighter: from running teams and training missile maintainers, to preparing Army and Navy special teams on calls for fire in AFSOC, to being the chief of Formal EC-130H training, helping procure and field CREW systems for the Army, and heading the 12th Air Force’s Training Division.”
“It feels great working here, along with the other Services and Team Orlando,” he said. “I’ve always enjoyed the joint experiences throughout my career, but most important, it’s through these joint partnerships that the DoD will continue to advance ‘Readiness thru LVC.’”