LAUGHLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Tx.-- The T-6 Texan II launches more than 150 times per day at Laughlin, but Tuesday’s launch was pretty special, as more than 25 maintainers stopped what they were doing to watch a lieutenant take to the skies in a military aircraft for the first time.
Tuesday morning, 2nd Lt. Mark Gonzalez, a student pilot and Del Rio native, completed his dollar ride. A dollar ride is the first ride in a military aircraft a student pilot takes when beginning Undergraduate Student Pilot Training. Gonzalez completed his first flight with Maj. Jesus Beltran, a Laughlin instructor pilot and fellow Del Rio native.
The tandem’s crew chief was Benjamin Gonzalez, a T-6 Phase Dock Supervisor in the 47th Maintenance Directorate and Mark’s own father at home.
When Lt. Gonzalez pulled from under the sun shade and turned left, all the family and friends waved as he pulled out. Lt. Gonzalez’s eyes stayed glued to the instruments, never looking away, oblivious to the love being sent his way.
It had been a long journey to this point for him, and didn’t want to take his eye off the targets: first goal is pilot’s wing and then eventually space as an astronaut.
“When he was 4-years-old, he told me he wanted to be an astronaut,” said Mr. Benjamin Gonzalez. Before taking to space, Lt. Gonzalez will compete for his pilot wings.
“My dad always took us out to the lake to look at the stars,” Lt Gonzalez said. “I just wanted to be in the sky.”
He zipped through school and was accepted into Texas A&M. After a year, Lt. Gonzalez thought it might be best to forget the sky and space, and enlist.
He went to basic military training school, then was placed in the Command and Control Battle Manager career field and was sent to Barksdale AFB, La.
For six years, Lt Gonzalez grinded away, winning awards, and knocking out more college credits. He built an impressive resume that regularly included briefing 4-star generals, often as the most junior person in the room.
When a Global Strike commander had one slot for the Senior Leaders Commissioning Program, he thought about that young sharp staff sergeant who always briefed him about the B-52 fleet. The general helped put Mark’s dream back on track and he was headed back to college at his old stomping grounds.
He knocked an engineering degree out in three years and was off to Officer Training School. Ten weeks later, the staff sergeant was now a lieutenant and headed back home to Del Rio, host of Laughlin, the Air Force’s largest pilot training base.
“Trying to come back to Del Rio there was no question, I wanted to come back here,” Lt Gonzalez said.
The crowd of onlookers contained Laughlin Airmen, employees, and maintainers, some of whom had gone to high school with him, watched their friend and buddy’s kid, who they’d watched Lt Gonzalez grow up, head out in one of the aircraft.
“It’s awesome, so cool,” shouted David Gomez, a 47th MX Directorate fuels technician who’d gone to high school with Lt. Gonzalez.
Benjamin watched from the flightline, waiting for his boy to come rolling down the runway and slip the surly bonds. “Everything he’s done, he’s done on his own,” he said. “It’s a great feeling when you try to help your son and he says, ‘I can handle it.’”
As he said that, his son’s T-6 that he was flying with fellow Del Rio High School graduate neared the 100-mph mark and slowly lifted off the ground, a young 4-year-old’s first dream had just been accomplished.