ALTUS AIR FORCE BASE, Okla.--Leaders from the 97th Air Mobility Wing visited the 14th Flying Training Wing at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi, to help inspire, educate and congratulate the next generation of mobility pilots Nov. 12 to 13, 2020.
As a way to showcase the Air Force’s newest mobility airpower asset, Col. Matthew Leard, 97th AMW commander, spoke at a pilot graduation ceremony while a KC-46 Pegasus aircrew, assigned to the 56th Air Refueling Squadron, put their aircraft on display for Airmen and their families to experience.
Majors Eric Penney and Matthew Schaefer, KC-46 instructor pilots assigned to the 56th Air Refueling Squadron, along with Master Sgt. Joseph Vondohlen and Staff Sgt. Carrie Williams, KC-46 boom operators assigned to the 56th ARS, helped make the display possible.
The aircrew opened the jet doors to the 14th FTW where Airmen and their families were able to talk to the crew, learn about the jet, and experience firsthand the Air Force’s newest mobility asset.
“Seeing new aircraft gives a lot of motivation to students here and reminds everyone what they are working towards,” said 2nd Lt. Alexandra Scarboro, a student pilot assigned to the 14th Student Squadron. “These visits remind us what our options are and give an opportunity to interact with pilots, aircrew and the aircraft itself. I think it is good for families to get an opportunity to see and understand what the aircraft is capable of, as well as ask questions about our careers and the mission of the pilots that bring them here.”
Columbus AFB’s mission specializes in training pilots to operate the T-6 Texan II, T-38C Talon and T-1A Jayhawk aircraft.
During this month’s pilot graduation, Leard was invited to be a guest speaker where he helped inspire the Air Force’s newest graduates before they earned their official pilot’s wings.
“One of the greatest pleasures and obligations of being a military officer is mentoring and developing junior officers,” said Leard. “We are all the products of the officers that came before us and took a personal interest in our development. I continue to serve because I love leading Airmen and I feel obligated to develop the next generation of Airmen that will defend this country.”
During his speech, Leard encouraged the graduates to be an “American first, an officer second and a pilot third.”
“You are all officers in the United States Air Force and that is one of the most respected professions that we have, and it is for a reason,” said Leard. “You stand for an unbiased set of ideals that many people envy, and they trust you because of that.”
Leard explained how graduates should be very proud of becoming a pilot, as it is one of the most prestigious professions in the Air Force. However, he also emphasized it is important to remember to have fun, relax, and take care of oneself.
“The role you will perform for this nation is truly indispensable, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for fun,” said Leard. “Relax every once in a while and remind yourself that you are a pilot in the greatest fighting force this world has ever known.”