SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas --
A dozen Airmen in Training, all student leaders in Ropes programs, listened with rapt attention as three Air Force aviators described their paths to the cockpit as part of the Ropes to Flight Initiative 88th FTS Immersion Experience. Though the pilots’ experiences were different, a common thread emerged – be tenacious and never give up on your goals.
The Ropes to Flight Initiative is exclusive to Sheppard Air Force Base. It was created by Lahella Jones, who runs the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program. Through her conversations with the SAPR student leaders known as “Teal Ropes,” she learned that many airmen enlisted but have aspirations to fly and already had or were close to having a bachelor’s degree.
“Pairing my knowledge of the Air Force pilot shortage and the Air Force’s desire for a more diverse flying force, I realized there may be a unique and innovative opportunity to further motivate our newest Airmen beyond their tenure here at technical training,” Jones said.
After an initial meeting with Ms. Jones, the AiTs boarded a bus to the 80th Flying Training Wing where pilot instructors Maj. Joseph Underwood, Capt. Andrew Reese, and Capt. Braxton Baker spoke about what it is like to be a pilot and what it takes to become one.
Underwood, who applied for Officer Training School during a drawdown, spoke from experience when he counseled to AiTs to keep trying.
“I was fortunate enough to get selected on my third attempt on my third year,” he said. “So the big picture is just keep trying. If you do have a dream out there, just continue to pursue all the different avenues that are available and continue to improve yourself so that you can attain your dreams.”
The pilots wove examples of career experiences with practical information about academic and commissioning programs for an interesting and informative question-and-answer session.
Following the brief, Reese and Baker led the AiTs to flight simulators where they each had an opportunity to get a feel for flight.
Tech. Sgt. Tiffany Arnold, Deputy Sexual Assault Response Coordinator and volunteer with the Ropes to Flight Initiative, mentored airmen as they waited their turns.
“Have confidence in yourself and in your abilities to do great things,” she said. “When it comes to your goals in life, do not allow yourself or others to hold you back. Weather any storms and remain resilient.”
Airman Jin Yang believes his the extra responsibilities that come with being a Rope puts him on the right trajectory towards a career as a pilot.
“It’s going to give me a little boost of how it feel to be in a leadership role as a pilot,” he said.
Yang has wanted to be a pilot as long as he can remember.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I was a kid, and I’ve always been interested in these aircraft and how they’re able to go past the speed of sound. I’ve always been fascinated,” he said.
Yang knows exactly which jet he wants to fly.
“The F-22 Raptor,” he says. “It’s a stealth aircraft and it’s a unique aircraft. Obviously, every aircraft is unique on its own. But the F-22 is the eye catcher.”
For more information about Ropes to Flight or Teal Rope programs, contact the SAPR office at (940)676-0363.