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From the ground up

LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Texas (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

Some people dream of becoming a fighter pilot, while others dream of becoming a military special operator.

Very few people make both dreams come true.

Second Lt. Andrew Dane, a 47th Flying Training Wing pilot graduate and former Tactical Air Control Party special operator, will be able to see both dreams come true. Dane has successfully completed specialized undergraduate pilot training and is on his way to fly the F-16 Fighting Falcon.

“I never thought this would actually happen,” Dane said. “When I enlisted I never thought I would commission as an officer. When I commissioned, I never thought I’d be a pilot. When that happened I never thought I would (fly) fighters -- and I did. So this is beyond my wildest dreams.”

Since enlisting immediately after high school, Dane has made numerous successes and overcame insurmountable odds.

“When I’m an old man, I want to say I did something worthwhile with my life,” said Dane. “I want to do something challenging. I want to defend my country.”

Dane, a calm and quiet individual, initially enlisted as a pararescueman, one of the toughest career fields to crack, but he didn’t make the cut.

“I was disappointed in myself,” said Dane. “I chose pararescue because I knew the training was hard, and I didn’t make it.”

With his first choice depleted, he needed to find another way into combat. He found TACP.

“It didn’t involve swimming, I could still wear a beret and blouse my boots,” Dane said, laughing. “I feel like it was a better fit for me.”

Later in his career, while on his second deployment as TACP, Dane was approached by his air liaison officer and was presented an opportunity to commission.

“He came into the tent one day and said, ‘Dane, I just got an email from the commander asking if there’s anyone I would recommend for the academy. Are you interested?’” said Dane. “I just sat on my cot for a minute and said, ‘Yeah! Yeah, I’m interested.’”

At the time, he was four years into his six year enlistment, and was deciding between separating and furthering his education, or reenlisting.

“This kind of solved both of my problems,” said Dane. “I get to go to school, and I get to stay in the military.”

The only catch was that Dane was asked to apply the day before the application deadline.

“I had to do my entire application process from a deployed location,” he said. “I didn’t take an SAT or ACT in high school, either, and I had a week to study before the next test. So after four years of being out of school, I did well enough to make it in.”

Dane made it into the Air Force Academy as a direct entry, meaning he skipped the United States Air Force Academy Preparatory School. He was one out of ten direct entries that year.

As he made his way from an enlisted airman to a commissioned officer, Dane ran into another problem. During his freshman year at the academy he was diagnosed with testicular cancer.

“It was painful,” said Dane. “But by this point in my life I’ve been shot at and blown up so I knew this wasn’t going to kill me.”

To get a slot as a pilot, a person diagnosed with cancer needs to be in remission for at least five years; in his situation, he would only be three-and-a-half years cancer-free.

“I used to do something really cool and exciting,” he said. “I wouldn’t be as happy doing something not as exciting, so I knew I needed to be a pilot. I didn’t know what I was going to do.”

The only way to get around the problem was to submit an exception to policy, he said. An exception to policy would waive the five years in remission requirement and allow Dane the opportunity to pursue his career.

“As far as I know, (the waiver) made its’ way all the way up to (the Secretary of the Air Force) to get approved,” said Dane. “So there’s another ‘never thought I’d be a pilot’ moment.”

Dane’s request was approved during his senior year, which he advanced once more to becoming a pilot.

“I was in disbelief when I found out it went through,” he said. “I didn’t think it was going to happen.”

When it was time for Dane to choose which training track he wanted to pursue at Laughlin Air Force Base, he said he had a tough choice to make.

“(Choosing) the T-1 (Jayhawk) would ultimately provide a better family life, and I’d be able to be with my wife sooner,” Dane said. “But it came down to me picking T-38 (Talon)’s.”

Now that he’s on his way to fly the F-16, Dane says he couldn’t be more excited to see the flip side of the job that he supported as a joint terminal attack controller in his old career field.

“(As TACP) I always thought the pilot had the harder job,” Dane said. The pilot has a multitude of things to worry about like fuel in the aircraft, a wingman on his or her wing, navigation and every other thing that concerns keeping the jet in the air, he said.

Dane’s face pulled into a grin as he recalled the aircraft that he had gotten support from while down range, including the F-16 he’s been slotted for.

“You never know where you’re going to end up,” Dane said. “And I think that everything does happen for a reason. I’m ready to get out there and protect our guys on the ground.”