Here’s an adorable story to start your week: A pilot says good-bye to his young daughter as he deploys abroad, but, not wanting to feel too far from her, the pilot borrows one of her toys, a plush green duck. The pilot takes the duck on sorties and on video calls with his daughter. People notice the duck in the cockpit, and he becomes an unofficial mascot for the pilot’s fighter wing, with his orange-billed face shared across social media and on a morale patch.
This is the story of Scoff the Duck, a bright-green stuffed animal who provides a splash of color and a touch of home for Air Force Capt. Andrew Munoz, formerly of the 494th Fighter Squadron and now chief of plans for the 335th Fighter Squadron. From his perch atop Munoz’s F-15 instrument panel, Scoff became a hit among members of the 494th fighter squadron based in RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom.
“I had people reach out from all sorts of different aviation platforms, wanting to hear Scoff’s story,” Munoz said, in a recent press release written by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte.
But as cute as Scoff is, his origins lie in a tough moment that many military parents experience: saying goodbye to their young children as they deploy overseas. Munoz went through that moment during his first deployment with the 494th, when his daughter was just four months old. When he arrived on station and dumped his clothes onto his bed to unpack, he found one of his daughter’s tiny socks lying on the top of the pile.
“It was a very tough moment,” the pilot said. “That was my first lucky charm. A reminder of what I had depending on me to make it home safely.”
But soon afterwards, it was time for Munoz to head out on his second deployment. Combined with his first, the pilot would be separated from his daughter for almost half her life. To make things a little easier, Munoz took the duck with him so that she could be more emotionally invested in their video calls, Monte wrote.
“I didn’t want my daughter to think I lived inside the phone,” Munoz said. “I took Scoff so she could connect me with something she had possession of in reality. It was a crucial bonding experience for us.”
Like many pilots, Scoff got his nickname from his wingmen. In this case, the duck was named after the AA-10D heat-seeking missile, also known as a ‘duck.’ The phrase ‘don’t scoff the duck’ is often dropped before every training sortie, Munoz explained.
“There are more threatening missiles we train to combat, so the ‘duck’ is often forgotten, but it is still nonetheless lethal,” he said. “It was a fitting name, and it stuck.”
Soon enough, Scoff took off, both in the air and in our hearts.
“Scoff coming into the limelight really connected the community to the pilots and their work,” said Mike Whitbread, a local aviation enthusiast, in the press release. ”It was something to personalize the pilot, rather than just being a guy in an F-15.”
Munoz flew his final flight with the 494th Fighter Squadron in October 2020. He and his family are now stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina. Still, Munoz said he plans to save a seat for Scoff in the cockpit for the rest of his flying career, until he can finally be returned to the original owner, Monte wrote.
“I think it will be a special memento for her when she grows up,” said Munoz. “She will have something to remind her that she was always with me in some kind of way, no matter where I was in the world.”
David Roza covers the Air Force and Space Force for Task & Purpose. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org