Reader voices: Following a dream to become a pilot

By Erik H. Christensen

For the Deseret News

Published: Sunday, Sept. 8 2013 5:00 a.m. MDT

Since I was 7 years old I wanted to become an Air Force pilot. Pilots were at the top of the cool factor for me, higher than GI Joe, He Man or any other superhuman action figure. I could not figure out, in my little boy mind, why everyone else did not want to become a pilot. The sky seemed to be a place where you could enjoy real freedom.

As I grew up and time passed, the thought had come into my mind multiple times to join the military to become a pilot, but there was always a lot of doubt about really being able to accomplish that lofty goal.

I always remember my father taking me to the local Air Force base, where he worked, where I would see pilots walking around in their flight suits. They seemed superhuman to me. I never told my father at the time, but I always wanted their autograph. That might seem funny, but they were as cool as it gets for a young boy.

As I grew up, I always made it a point to attend the air shows at the local Air Force base. One year, while attending the air show with a friend, I saw a booth that said Air Force Reserve. I approached the recruiter to find some information on some of the requirements to become a pilot. He pretty much said to just call him later and he would talk to me. As always, the thought of becoming a pilot was always in the back of my mind.

Sometime later I met a wonderful young woman named Jalyssa Hill. She encouraged me to follow my dream of becoming an Air Force pilot, I thought it was wonderful of her to do that, but somehow I just didn't think that I could ever reach that high of a pedestal. They seemed so smart, always calm and were just amazing people that I always wanted to be like but never thought that I could.

Then one day I made up my mind to just do it. I wanted to be a pilot more than anyone wanted anything, and I figured "Why not? What have I to lose?"

I went into the Air Force Reserve recruiting office and asked a recruiter what I needed to do to become a pilot. They said that it was not possible. I asked another recruiter and they also implied that it was not possible. Finally, I found someone who would listen. They told me that one of the main things I needed to do was enlist and get to know some of the pilots. So I enlisted and got into a career field that I thought was going to help me get to know some pilots.

After attending basic training in San Antonio, it was on to Wichita Falls, Texas, and back to Utah, where I worked with various munitions on the F-16. I loved working on the flight line and watching the F-16s take off. The sound, the feel and especially the sight of any military aircraft taking off was a breath-taking event for me. My co-workers thought I was crazy because they couldn't figure out why I would just stare at the aircraft taking off. This was a common event for me since I used to watch the F-16s from my front lawn in Kaysville fly out to the Great Salt Lake.

After doing a lot of my own research on the requirements to become an Air Force pilot, I found out that I had to start pilot training by my 30th birthday. I just worked the year after high school and had served a mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I knew I needed to get my ducks in a row and get to work toward my goal. I found out what obstacles were ahead of me — including getting a private pilot license and a bachelor's degree — and I tackled them head-on.

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