Capt. Eric "Dirk" Ziegler
Eric "Dirk" Layne Ziegler was born December 4, 1980, in Minot, N.D., to Lynn and Valorie Ziegler. He died while flying a training mission near Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada, on June 28, 2011.
Eric grew up in West Fargo. As a boy, he loved scouting, camping, and fishing with his grandpa. Eric was an avid sports enthusiast as both a fan and participant in track and field, football, and baseball. Throughout his high school years he served on student council and was voted class president his senior year. Eric attended Shiloh Evangelical Free Church where he developed a strong and lasting faith in Jesus. He graduated from West Fargo High School in 1999 and entered the U.S. Air Force Academy soon after. At the Air Force Academy, he studied Civil Engineering and participated in track and field, several intramural sports, as well as Fellowship of Christian Athletes. He was a proud member of Cadet Squadron 8 and in his fourth year served as squadron commander. While attending the Academy he also developed his passion for aviation, travel and the outdoors. He graduated from the Air Force Academy in 2003.
Eric's talents as a natural aviator were quickly recognized during pilot training at Sheppard AFB, TX, where he was a top-tier student and selected the F-16 after finishing near the top of his class. On July 3, 2004, Eric married the love of his life - Sarah - and they began their life together as a pair of Officers while stationed at Luke AFB, Ariz. After his time in Phoenix with Sarah, he went to Kunsan AB, South Korea, as part of the 35th Fighter Squadron "Pantons," while Sarah continued her work in Arizona. Eric spent his year in Korea enthusiastically honing his craft as an aviator, while eagerly counting the days when he and Sarah could be together again. Following Korea, the Ziegler's moved to Spangdahlem AB, with Dirk joining the 23d Fighter Squadron "Fighting Hawks" and Sarah leading the sister-squadron 22d "Stingers" Aircraft Maintenance Unit. Dirk was selected as the Squadron Electronic Combat Pilot for the Hawks, and he absolutely shined during a demanding Flight Lead upgrade. Between a demanding day-to-day schedule and the extremely frequent deployment schedule, Eric was a social and tactical rock for the Squadron and was continuously selected for additional duties such as Assistant Flight Commander and eventually even Squadron Executive Officer. He went with 23d Fighter Squadron on the Hawks' first-ever deployment to Iraq in January 2008 on his first of two combat deployments from Germany. He earned the Air Medal and the Aerial Achievement Medal on his first combat tour.
Dirk's outstanding performance on his first deployment earned him a "quick-turn" to a second deployment - this time with the 22d Fighter Squadron and at the same time as his wife, the Stingers' Maintenance Officer. On his second deployment, Eric rounded out his more than 300 combat hours, was awarded the Air Medal (third Oak Leaf Cluster), and dutifully performed Electronic Combat Pilot and Assistant Chief of Weapons duties while primarily flying demanding night sorties.
On Sept. 22, 2010, Eric and Sarah welcomed their daughter, Anna Mae. The 52d Fighter Wing said goodbye to the Ziegler three-ship, as Capt Ziegler was hand-picked to become an Operational Test Pilot with the 422d Test & Evaluation Squadron "Green Bats."
Capt. Ziegler was an Instructor Pilot with more than 1,200 hours in the F-16. He was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal (posthumously), Air Force Commendation Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Service, Air Force Training Ribbon and the Air Force Expeditionary Service Medal with Gold Border. Capt. Ziegler distinguished himself as an exceptional fighter pilot, earning numerous flying awards throughout his flying career, and recently being selected to attend the elite US Air Force F-16 Weapons Instructor Course.
Eric's family describes him as a man of character and faith who deeply loved his family as well as flying. His sense of humor, spontaneity, faith, zest for life, love of family and country are the hallmarks of his personality. He was a true Son of the United States.
Eric is survived by his wife, Sarah; daughter, Anna; parents, Val Ziegler, West Fargo, and Lynn (Karen) Ziegler, Sioux Falls, S.D.; sister, Erin (Bryan) Petersen, Moorhead, Minn.; nephews, Jack Petersen and Maxime Cosset; nieces, Dani Peterson and Grace Petersen; grandmother, Mae Ziegler, Moorhead; mother-in-law, Susan Kotte, Fargo; sisters-in-law, Judy (Yael) Cosset, Kathy (Tony Rojas) Kotte, and Becca Kotte; numerous aunts, uncles and cousins; as well as his beloved dog and friend Duke.
Eric was preceded in death by grandparents Ted and Lorraine Schmidtgal and Virgil Ziegler.
Visitation for Eric will be Friday, July 8, from 10 to 11:30 a.m., at Triumph Lutheran Brethren Church, Moorhead, with the Funeral Service at 11:30 a.m. in the church. Burial, with full military honors, will be at 1 p.m. in Sunset Memorial Gardens, Fargo.
(Korsmo Funeral Home, Moorhead)