You probably thought this stream of posts was over, but there is still more to this story.
I was pretty disappointed about not getting the pilot slot, but like I mentioned before, I was not overly surprised. The board had even recommended to hire both of us, but leadership decided they couldn’t afford to lose both of us. Again, that was totally understandable, and they said they would reassess in six months or so.
I went about my work trying not to think about it much, but one of the unique dynamics of the National Guard is that the majority of your people are not around all of the time, so when they do come to town they all want to know what has been going on. I’m pretty sure I told each one of our part timers individually that I had not been selected, but that they would reassess in six months.
I really just used it as a sign that people care. On any given day, when I was frustrated with other stuff, it would get annoying, but for the most part I was grateful that people took the time to ask.
The summer went by rather quickly with a few trips to fight fires and some quality time with my family. There is almost always plenty to do with my job, and that was even more the case after some personnel changes that happened last summer. It’s okay though because I like to stay busy.
As we got towards the middle of last year I had given up hope that it would happen before our deployment in October, but then about six weeks before we were supposed to leave, our Director of Operations (DO) said they were going to have another board in the next week or so. There had been a change in leadership and the new leadership felt we could afford to send more people. We also were realizing that the process was not short, and that it would likely be 18 months or more to get any of us out the door, so why not get more people headed in that direction.
So, I got my stuff together, which was easy because I had already done it, and turned it over to him.
I was surprisingly carefree going into the board because at this point I felt that either way it was what was best for me and my family. While almost nothing had gone the way I wanted in my military career, it had always worked out for the best. I had no real expectations for the board, though I felt good about my chances, and had hope that I would be able to get what I wanted.
The day of the board came and I felt good about everything I had said because it was my truth. I was also more familiar with the people on the board because I had been in the unit for another four months and gone on a few trips. At the end of the day I knew that I had presented myself the best I could, and that it would all work out.
I don’t recall if it was that same day, or the next day, but I was called into the office of our new commander and told that they had decided to send me to pilot training. That they would hate to lose me for a year and a half, but that they wanted to support people in their dreams, and that in the long run it would be what is best for the unit.
Anyone who knows me, knows that I am not generally a very outwardly emotional person. Sure I started to cry at the end of Toy Story 3 when the toys all almost die, and the last Avengers movie got me more than once, but I am not someone who gets overly excited about much. It drives my wife crazy because she feels like I should be more outward in my expression of excitement. It’s just not me.
At the risk of getting too off track, I think it stems from when I was in high school and my mom told me I was taking sports a little too seriously, so I reigned in my competitive edge a little, and I think some of my excitement was killed with it.
I thanked my commander repeatedly for the opportunity and had a nice little chat with him about some other stuff before leaving his office. I then went to call my wife to give her the good news. As you may have guessed I had to toy with her a little, but she is used to that by now. She was screaming in the phone, and had it posted on Facebook before I could tell anyone else. I guess it is good that one of us can be a little more excitable.
Now it was time to get the process going, because like I mentioned, it was not a short one, and I would need two ETPs (exception to policy, which is essentially a waiver). I immediately went back to my desk and submitted a request for a FC-1 flight physical which are only given at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, and are not usually easy to get scheduled.
Because I work in training it was a little unique because I was making the request for myself, but it also allowed me to be a little more pushy about getting a date ASAP. Unfortunately, I was told that they need the request at least 30 days prior to the appointment in order to properly scrub medical records and prepare for the physical. I was making the request 29 days before I was leaving for a deployment so it would have to be delayed by four months. What can you do?
In the mean time I prepared all of my other paperwork so that it would all be ready to go once I had returned from deployment and completed my physical. I was fortunate that we had sent a few people through the process recently and I had a decent starting point to prepare my stuff. The only real inconvenience is that the offices that the paperwork would go to like to change their processes every few months and not tell anyone, so there were a couple of speed bumps along the way.
I left on my deployment excited about this new opportunity, but at the same time frustrated that I was having to delay the whole thing four months because I am not getting any younger, and I wanted to get to it so I could get back and stabilize my family again.
About half way through the deployment I sent a message to the person who schedules the physicals just to make sure I was still on his radar since it had been a few months since we submitted it. He reassured me that I was still on their radar and that I should receive a date after the first of the year. True to his word, that first week after New Years I received a date to get my physical a couple of weeks after returning home from deployment.
Having that on the radar made it both easier and harder to get through the last two months in the desert. On the one hand, my next step was scheduled, but on the other, I didn’t want to wait three more months to go take care of it. One of the good things about that wait was that I had plenty of time to get in a lot of good workouts and make sure I was in as good of shape as possible for the physical, because not passing would ruin the whole thing.
Deep down I wasn’t too concerned because I had just renewed my flight physical right before the deployment, but I had also known a few people who were extremely healthy that had not passed the physical. It is such an in-depth physical, in particular in relation to your eyes, that it is common for people who have never had issues to discover a problem there. One of my friends discovered that he was mildly color blind after living for 25 years with no problems. Some people refer to that office as the place where dreams go to die, because you just never know until you walk out of there with a clean physical.
After completing my deployment, and enjoying a much-needed trip to Hawaii to reconnect as a family, the time came for my physical and really feeling like I was on the road to getting this thing going.
You check in the night before the physical and are told where you will be staying, which was a simple little hotel right outside the gate. You have to show up the next morning fasting to take care of your blood work similar to many physicals, though they take more vials than most physicals I have had. You then proceed to get a chest x-ray before heading over to the main building where the rest of the physical takes place, which is on a completely different section of the base.
It is a unique situation because you go through the physical with an entire group of people. Our group was about 20, but apparently they are often twice that large. There is also a whole range of people going through the process. We had ROTC cadets, other National Guard Members like myself, and even a Navy pilot that was crossing over to the Air Force to fly RPAs. With the variety of backgrounds, it makes for some interesting discussions throughout the day.
Once everyone is there you start knocking out all of the things you would expect in a physical like height, weight, blood pressure, and health history. Then you add in stuff like dental, sitting height and leg measurements, and basic eye tests like depth perception and color.
About halfway through the first day (yes it is a multiple day thing, in some cases as many as 4-5 days) I was told that there was something in my blood that hadn’t checked out and I would need to take a sample again the next day. I was reassured that when this happens it is usually because they forgot to take a vial, or that I simply wasn’t hydrated enough and they needed another sample. So that night I drank water like a fish because I was not going to have that keep me down.
The second day is one of major mixed emotions because of what takes place. The first half of the day is a bunch of psychological tests that are not in any way graded, but are a way for them to set a baseline to study, and to compare against if you ever had an accident or injury that they need to go back and compare it to. They are not hard tests, and they don’t disqualify you, so it is pretty laid back.
On the other hand, the second half of the day is when they start to check your eyes, and since that is what knocks out most people, it is also the most stressful part of your time there. After a few basic eye tests, as well as some super interesting ones like mapping your eyes, they dilate your eyes in preparation for the doctor to take a closer look at them.
Now most people have probably had their eyes dilated at some point, and all of us have experienced it even when you spend a long time in a dark room like a movie theater and then step out into the sun. Most eye exam dilation lasts for about 6 hours at the most, but due to the nature of this test, they tell you that it can last up to 48 hours. During which time you won’t be able to read or see anything close to you and you will be extremely sensitive to any light.
I have had this done a couple of times and it is incredibly weird to have an optometrist tell you that your eyes are perfect only to not be able to see a paper that is directly in front of you. It is also practically impossible to call or text anyone so you better make sure you have any important numbers properly loaded before they put in those drops.
It does take some time for the drops to take effect, so I took advantage of that break, and the fact that I hadn’t eaten all day, to run over and get my blood work redone. I was happy to learn a few hours later that it had been a non-issue and I was clean. I was also able to use this time to clean up a few of the stations I had not been able to get signed off earlier.
Then it was back to the office to wait for my turn to get my eyes checked. It is a really weird sensation to have your vision slowly go blurry. You just start to notice everything not being as crisp and then before you know it you go to look at your watch or something, and you can’t even read it.
When it comes time for the doctor to actually check you, you really start to question how good your eyesight is as he flips all sorts of different letters and numbers in front of you with a combination of different lenses and asking which one looks clearer. There is no gaming the system as you have no idea which one is supposed to look clearer, so you just answer honestly, and hope for a positive result.
After maybe 15 minutes or so he cleared me off and said that everything looked great. I went back to the main office and was told that there were no issues found and that I was good to go for the entire physical. Let me tell you what a relief that was. Knowing as many people as I do that didn’t make it through, I was super excited to have crossed the first big hurdle.
As prepared as I was, I immediately messaged my commander and told him that I had passed the physical, and he could sign the forms and send them up, having emailed them to him before I left. Turns out the process had changed as I previously mentioned, and it took a week or so to get it cleared up so the forms were prepared properly, and it could be sent to the General for signature.
After he signed it commenced the long wait to see if my ETPs would be approved. I needed one because I am 37 and the age cutoff at the time was 30 (this since has been raised to 33 so I would still need one), and a second because I had been a commissioned officer for more than 5 years (this too has been raised to 8 years, but I have been commissioned 9 so I still needed that one). I was told that it would be about 5-6 weeks before I would get a response.
Talk about a painful 5-6 weeks. Every single day I would check my email in the hopes that I was lucky and had gotten a response early. After the fifth week I decided to check in and was told very simply that it had not come back yet. I tried to ask again the following weeks to no response.
Then as fortune would have it, two of my commanders were headed to DC for a conference and told me they would check on it while they were there. When they went to the office that approves the ETPs they were told that it was approved, and should be signed by the end of the following week. While this made me happy, I am a bit of a skeptic when it comes to this stuff so until I had a signed document, I wasn’t going to believe it.
The end of the following week came and went without any signed document. I was starting to get a little nervous, but that was really just my own paranoia. I had no reason to believe that it would not come through, but it did make for a long weekend.
Monday morning came and I got a text from my commander asking who we needed to send the approved ETP to, to which I responded that I was the one that would send it to the people who give out class dates, once we got it. His response was simply, “Check your email.”
At that moment I spun around in my chair and saw the email pop up on my screen that my ETPs had been approved. It honestly made me happier than when I was told I would be going to pilot training because for the first time I knew that it was going to happen. I had hoped previously and I knew that I was being well supported, but once I saw that signature on that piece of paper I knew for sure it would happen.
Sadly I didn’t have the time to call and talk to my wife because of other work issues, so I simply took a picture of the letter and texted it to her. She was probably more excited than me as this whole process has tested her patience immensely.
This all took place last Monday, so it has been a week since I finally knew my dream was going to go even further. Within minutes of getting the signed letter I had included it with the rest of my paperwork and sent it back to DC to request a class date. I had been told that all of the classes are filled through next summer, but there is always hope that there will be a fall out class that I can get into earlier.
So stay tuned for me getting a class date and heading out on another adventure.
So there we are, coming to a close on this chapter of my story, which is really just foreshadowing into the next. I have been approved to go to pilot training after starting this process more than ten years ago. I had fully given up on this dream more than once, and genuinely never thought it would happen, but life has a funny way of catching up with you.
I kept working hard, and loved what I was doing. I tried to do my part to contribute to the unit, and make sure that I was helping other people find a way to get to their dream. When I least expected it, the opportunity to keep chasing that dream appeared, and I was in the right place, at the right time to take advantage of it.
Hopefully, this gives some people some hope that they too can follow their dream, and maybe rekindle that fire in some people to keep going because you never know when that break will come. Most importantly, I hope my kids see what has happened and are encouraged to chase the things they want most in life.
Many things in life do not happen on the timelines we originally set, but if we put forth the effort, and really go after the things we want most, more often than not, we will find success in the only true form that success can come, happiness.