Tag Archives: pilot

How to become an Air Force pilot

By Senior Airman Soochan Kim
Air Force Social Media Team

Many of us imagine it at least once: As a five-year-old child sitting on a chair playing pretend, as a teenager playing flight simulator video games, and in my case whenever I start the engine of my car (yes, I still play pretend when I’m by myself).

A fan watches the demonstration during the Dayton Airshow, June 21, 2015, at Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rachel Maxwell/Released)
A fan watches the demonstration during the Dayton Airshow, June 21, 2015, at Dayton, Ohio. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rachel Maxwell/Released)


I’m talking about becoming a pilot. Not so surprisingly, many people choose to join the United States Air Force in hopes of becoming a pilot.

While we all dream of flying the multimillion dollar metal bird and delivering freedom to the enemies below in a form of explosives, let’s hold that thought and ask: how DO you become a pilot in the Air Force?

As many may find this surprising, it’s definitely not by wearing a pair of aviator sunglasses and growing out a Burt Reynolds mustache (not to mention that his mustache would be pushing it against the regulations). Rather, it requires an extensive amount of training and education to be selected as a pilot.

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Destined to fly

By Senior Airman Kristoffer Kaubisch
Minot Air Force Base Public Affairs

In a split second, her entire future was hanging in the balance. One minute she was cutting floor boards for her new house, the next, she was in survival mode as the saw kicked the board up and took her hand with the cut, completely amputating her hand. The only thing running through her mind was to stay calm and focus on saving herself.

“It was crazy how it all happened,” said Capt. Kristin Nelson, 23rd Bomb Squadron pilot. “It’s amazing how much self-aid buddy care helped. I stayed calm and hollered for my husband. I cut off the pressure point, elevated my arm and went in the house and laid on the floor.”

Capt. Kristin Nelson, 23rd Bomb Squadron pilot, prepares to take flight on Minot Air Force Base, N.D., April 30, 2015. It was Nelson’s first flight back since an accident that amputated her left hand. However, doctors were able to successfully re-attach it. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kristoffer Kaubisch)
Capt. Kristin Nelson, 23rd Bomb Squadron pilot, prepares to take flight on Minot Air Force Base, N.D., April 30, 2015. It was Nelson’s first flight back since an accident that amputated her left hand. However, doctors were able to successfully re-attach it. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Kristoffer Kaubisch)

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Just fly your airplane

By Bo Joyner
Headquarters, Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

Maj. Gen. Stayce Harris is the first female numbered air force commander in the history of Air Force Reserve Command, but it’s not easy to get her to talk about her groundbreaking career. She would much rather chat about the 15,000 Air Force reservists who keep 22nd Air Force flying and fighting every day in 23 locations.

“The 22nd has some amazing missions,” said Harris, who assumed command in July 2014 over the Reserve’s tactical air mobility operations and other vital mission sets like undergraduate pilot training, flight test operations and a highly mobile civil engineering response force.

Aircrews from the 22nd AF fly a variety of missions to include aerial spray, fire suppression, hurricane hunting and troop transport using the C-130 Hercules.

Gen. Darren W. McDew, Air Mobility Command commander, and Hillard W. Pouncy, an original Tuskegee Airman, pin stars on Harris during her recent promotion ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jaclyn McDonald/Released)
Gen. Darren W. McDew, Air Mobility Command commander, and Hillard W. Pouncy, an original Tuskegee Airman, pin stars on Harris during her recent promotion ceremony. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Jaclyn McDonald/Released)

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Dual-military families

By Georganne Hassell
Air Force spouse

Even before my husband and I met, people called us by the same name: lieutenant. When you wear a single bar on your shoulder, there’s not much else to call you by anyway. My then-fellow lieutenant and now husband, Jonathan, was a pilot in the 1st Fighter Wing at Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., when we met. I was a public affairs officer for the same wing, and each of us was living the dream we had worked toward for years. While Jonathan worked on his tactics as a new pilot, I tried to shed a shade of green working with reporters covering the military beat. In between his upgrade rides and my airshow travel, we had the opportunity to take a temporary duty assignment, or TDY, together to South Korea. Apparently, flying for 13 hours in coach class without annoying each other gave us enough confidence to think about a future together. Less than two weeks later we had no doubt — we would someday be called husband and wife.

The day after Jonathan and I decided we wanted to get married, I received an assignment to move from Virginia to California within four months. Sometimes orders come at the least convenient times, but we both knew that living in the same place was more of a luxury than a guarantee. We were unsuccessful in trying to turn off the assignment, and so a few months after our engagement I settled into life with a new duty Air Force Specialty Code at a recruiting squadron, while Jonathan continued flying at Joint Base Langley-Eustis. Just three weeks after I arrived at my new base, I received another set of orders — this time with Afghanistan as my new destination. These orders caught me even more off guard than my recent permanent change of station for two reasons: recruiting squadrons didn’t traditionally deploy Airmen, and I would be working again as a public affairs officer, which was the career field I was just moved out of so I could work in recruiting. As confused as I was about this recent turn of events, it left Jonathan with a clear mindset. He would volunteer to deploy to Afghanistan.

We didn’t take this decision lightly. My deployment was inevitable, and in truth I was glad to be back working as a PAO and even excited to deploy, but Jonathan would be stepping out of his hard-earned seat in a dual-engine fighter and into a dual-prop aircraft, which is not normally the path of choice for his career field.

Before we took off on our own separate paths to the desert, we got married. We chose to say our vows in the place that brought us together, at Joint Base Langley-Eustis’ base chapel. We welcomed family and friends to Virginia for our wedding ceremony, but asked just one request of them: not to talk about our upcoming deployments. You could read the unease in many of their eyes about a young couple getting married and then going to war, but we didn’t need to discuss it then. We wanted one day of being present and at peace.

I flew back to my recruiting squadron after the wedding and saw Jonathan three more times before I left for my deployment to Zabul province, Afghanistan. He deployed just a few weeks after me to Kandahar, Afghanistan, and our fourth meeting as husband and wife came not long after. Work brought me to his base a few times during our deployment, but even those visits were overshadowed by military protocol and mortar attacks. My deployment only lasted a few months, and though I traveled through Kandahar on my way out, Jonathan was only about halfway through his tour. War brings many burdens. Leaving my husband behind to complete his duty was just one of them.

Thankfully, Jonathan’s deployment ended safely. He returned to Joint Base Langley-Eustis and to his role as a fighter pilot while I continued working in the recruiting squadron. The difficult decision for me to leave the Air Force was made soon after my husband’s redeployment. We knew that the best choice for our family was to only have one of us on active duty, and since he had several more years to go on his service commitment, I would have to be the one to drop papers. My time as a military officer ended later that year, and though my service was brief, it gave me a strong sense of purpose and the honor of working with some truly fantastic people.

The transition to civilian life was not an easy one, especially because of the near-pulseless job market. I looked forward to continuing in the field of public relations and putting my communications skills to work, but opportunities were scarce. Freelancing as a writer and editor offered a good transition, but I did miss many aspects of the service: camaraderie, structure and a fast-paced workplace, to name a few. Luckily, I found a new mission with my current work in academe, but I don’t believe there’s anything that can compare with wearing the uniform every day. I’ve come to accept that my career path will continue to look very different from what I imagined when I first said the oath of office as a new college graduate.

Though life as a spouse challenged me greatly in terms of my career and will continue to do so in the future, I have been overwhelmingly blessed with support of my husband, his squadron and our military community. I have found my fellow spouses to be gracious and caring; I am honored to know them and proud to call them friends. Jonathan and I both knew the day would come when one of us would have to leave the service, and even though it came sooner than I hoped, I look forward to being a part of the Air Force community for years to come.

Freedom: A beautiful thing

by Senior Airman Mariah Tolbert
4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

120606-F-XX000-010SEYMOUR JOHNSON AIR FORCE BASE, N.C. — “I was pretty young with all this but I was probably, at first, more revengeful than I should have been. When the occasion arose, I did not give the Germans very much of a chance. I took it out on them. I may have been wrong but I guess I was very vengeful so I didn’t give them a break, but I overcame that,” explained retired Air Force Lt. Col. Harry Pawlik.

From concentration camp survivor to fighter pilot in the world’s greatest Air Force, Pawlik has turned what would be a horrific experience into a life that was unimaginable to him nearly 74 years ago.

Pawlik was born in Poland Dec. 19, 1929, but that is just the beginning of his story.

On Sept. 1, 1939, when Nazi Germany invaded Poland, the world was forever changed, and for Pawlik, who was nearly 10 years old, life became a whirlwind journey.

The 1939 invasion resulted in Pawlik being separated from his family, never to see them again or really remember them. He explained at some point during World War II, he suffered a head injury from a piece of shrapnel, resulting in some memory loss.

“When they took me on that train, that’s when I lost my family. Never to be seen again,” he said. “Somewhere along the way, the train was stopped and the SS took over. They took us to a concentration camp — to Mauthausen, in Austria.”

After being separated from his family, Pawlik was immediately placed into several slave labor and concentration camps. For the next five years, he moved around Europe, forced to work under extreme conditions.

120103-F-YC840-020“We weren’t treated very well and one of the big things I know is if it hadn’t been for the older people, (the younger ones) wouldn’t have survived,” Pawlik said. “They did everything they could to help and that’s one of the reasons I now admire and support anything similar to what I went through.”

Prisoners, including Pawlik, were denied open access to bathrooms, water and clothing, and lived off small rations of potatoes, cabbage and beef or bean soup. They were expected to work long, hard hours and if they got sick or couldn’t work, the prisoners were killed.

Pawlik reminisced about many things he witnessed in concentration camps.

“It was called the Todesstiege — the Staircase of Death,” he explained. “They had people six abreast carrying 40 to 50 pound granite slabs up the steps to build the fence. You can imagine, with the condition the prisoners were in, what it was like. Most of the people were killed on those steps. They didn’t even have a chance.”

In the winter of 1944, things took a turn for the better.

While held in a concentration camp near Belgium, he and other prisoners were freed by a contingent of Polish forces with General Patton’s 3rd Army and 11th Armored Division. From here, he connected with the 11th AD and learned to speak English from the soldiers.

“Of course being rescued by the American Army was a super thing,” he said. “I was very fortunate to be picked up. You can imagine there were many of us in the same boat, and I was one of the lucky ones who survived. I was treated well and given a new life to look forward to.”

In Dec. 1944, Pawlik got his first taste of combat when the 11th AD engaged the Nazis in the Battle of the Bulge. By default, Pawlik became a 14-year-old American soldier, a Freedom Fighter, serving alongside U.S. forces.

He tells his friends and family that fighting against the Germans gave him an opportunity to rise up and fight those who took away his freedom, innocence and family.

“I realized we were on opposite sides,” he explained. “They were doing their job and I was doing my job. Of course, I didn’t agree with everything they did. But, that was their business.”

After fighting in the Battle of the Bulge and several other conflicts, Pawlik moved to Vienna, Austria, with a friend who was assigned to the 505th Military Police. Here, Pawlik was an invaluable resource to the unit he worked with by serving as an interpreter for the International Patrol.

Pawlik soon made it known that he wanted to come to the United States.

“Europe was not for me,” he said. “It was devastated. I had no people left, no family, no anything. As soon as I learned things about America, I made plans and did everything I could to get there, and I had help.”

There were more than 2 million applicants wanting to come to the United States in the summer of 1947. However, with Pawlik’s connections and recommendations, he was moved to the head of the list and received approval from six different countries in less than two months.

At the age of 17, he arrived in New York Harbor nearly three months later with just two suitcases and $120 in his pocket.

“We pulled into New York Harbor at night,” he explained. “When we were getting in, I asked who was in charge if I could stay on deck and see the lights of New York. I took a rope and I tied myself to a pole on the deck so I wouldn’t be blown away. I saw the Statue of Liberty, the beautiful lady with that flame. It was quite a moment for me.”

After graduating Albemarle High School, N.C., in 1950, a local businessman named Chuck Daniels, paid for Pawlik’s first two years of college at the University of North Carolina.

During his time in college, Pawlik was selected as the Outstanding Junior Air Force ROTC Cadet in the Nation and received the General Hap Arnold Silver Medal. He was inducted into three honor societies, all on top of being a co-captain of the university’s soccer and wrestling teams and working several jobs.

After becoming a U.S. citizen in July 1953 and graduating University of North Carolina in 1954, Pawlik commissioned into the Air Force.

“I wanted to pay the country back for being so great and nice to me,” he said. “I didn’t have much money or education, and I wanted to start out making something of myself. And of course, they gave me a flying job, and I loved flying.”

Throughout his career, Pawlik flew T-28s, T-34s, T-33s, B-47, B-52s, F-105s and F-111 aircraft. Overall, he flew 101 missions over North Vietnam, 21 over Laos, and 33 other missions and was hit by enemy fire seven different times.

Pawlik says that his story is not about being a prisoner of war; it’s about his first taste of freedom after being held captive and what those experiences have done for him.

“I owe freedom and the chance for a new life to this great nation,” Pawlik explained. “Back then, the idea of freedom, to me, was a wonderful thing. It really was. And all these years later, it still is. Freedom is still just a beautiful thing.”

PHOTO 1: Retired U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Harry Pawlik, center, and his team pose together after earning first place in a bombing competition in Upper Heyford, England, in 1975. Pawlik is a concentration camp survivor who joined the Air Force after gaining citizenship. (Courtesy photo)

PHOTO 2: U.S. Air Force retired Lt. Col. Harry Pawlik reviews a speech written in his honor at his home in Greenville, N.C., Jan. 3, 2013. Pawlik, a World War II concentration camp survivor, recalled several obstacles from the time he was captured by Nazi forces at the age of 10, to the day he graduated from the Naval War College during a recent interview. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Aubrey White)