SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
Children have a funny way of shooting for the stars when asked about their plans for grown-up jobs. Most rattle off one of the classics: doctor, fireman, celebrity, airplane pilot. Those dreams often evolve into more generic goals with age.
Sometimes the world decides to dish out second chances at those childhood dreams. According to one of the Air Force’s newest pilots, the key is to jump at the opportunity as soon as it lands on your plate.
Then Secretary of the Air Force, Deborah James, announced in 2016 that the Air Force could be short roughly 1,000 pilots over the next few years. When the buzz circulated to former film producer, now 2nd Lt. Aaron Doyle, he knew it was his time to serve.
“I dreamt of being a pilot as a kid but never thought it was a real option,” Doyle said. “Suddenly I felt like I had a place in the Air Force and I knew I needed to pursue the opportunity.”
Growing up with his father in the Air Force took him around the world, but Doyle considers home to be Simi Valley, California. He followed in his parent’s footsteps and attended Pacific Union College in Napa Valley, California.
At first, he struggled to narrow down his passion but it wasn’t long before he became completely immersed in studying film. He graduated in 2011 with a bachelor of science in film and television production.
He moved a few hours south to Chapman University in Orange, California, where he continued to grow at a top-ranked film production school. During the master’s program, he traveled to Taiwan for a project that would shape many of the skills he brings to the Air Force today.
“It was challenging to produce a film with people from a different culture who spoke a completely different language,” said Doyle. “You had no choice but to adapt.”
He credits much of his ability to effectively communicate with people from diverse backgrounds to the time he spent in Taiwan.
While pursuing his education, Doyle fell in love with his now-wife, Nicole. As they began to plan their future, they wondered if the film industry was right for their family.
“I’ll always be passionate about film production but that career wasn’t conducive for the family life that Nicole and I wanted.”
As he neared the finish line of his master of fine arts in film production, Doyle noticed in the news that the Air Force had a need for pilots. The gears in his head began to turn as he felt all the pieces of the puzzle fall into place.
Having both grown up with parents in the Air Force, they knew the benefits of the military would provide a great life for them and their future children.
“We knew that the Air Force valued the work-life balance and that was very attractive to us as a young couple starting a family.”
Doyle submitted his application to attend Air Force Officer Training School and the rest is history. As a standout at OTS, he earned a spot in the Air Force’s most prestigious undergraduate pilot training school, the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program.
After commissioning in the fall of 2016, ENJJPT brought Doyle, his wife and their new son to Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. He began his training in March and is already settling into ENJJPT’s diverse atmosphere.
This undergraduate pilot training school is the world’s only program where pilots from 14 NATO partner countries come together to teach and learn.
“The diverse environment helps us approach problems in a creative way and that’s a huge benefit for our Air Force and our allies,” said Doyle.
With the Air Force looking to increase its number of pilots, it’s likely that we’ll see more Airmen with unconventional backgrounds taking to the sky. Doyle notes that this is good news. He believes that the flexibility and adaptability he developed as a film producer will serve him well as a pilot.
“Flexibility is the key to airpower and Airmen with various backgrounds help the Air Force adapt to any circumstance.” said Doyle.
His supervisor, Maj. Sherwood Willis, chief of student training for ENJJPT, sees value in Doyle’s vast experiences, too.
“Doyle’s professionalism and initiative set him apart,” said Willis. “When he’s given a task, he creatively executes, and gets the job done.”
Neither Doyle nor his wife realized that their life together would lead them back to the Air Force. Since the military has facilitated an exciting yet stable lifestyle that allows them to make family one of their top priorities, they can’t imagine life any other way.
If you’re considering a shot at that childhood dream of becoming an elite pilot, Doyle suggests you dive right in, regardless of your personal or educational background.
“The Air Force can teach people to fly but leaders and creative thinkers will be what takes us to the next level,” Doyle said.
Living in a world with a complex, constantly changing battlefield presents challenges for the armed forces. An increase in diverse Airmen will allow our Air Force to continue to lead from the front.