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Aviation mentor inspires Houston youth to take flight from her hometown

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JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas -- Maj. Kiersten “Clicks” Thompson, an Instructor Combat Systems Officer assigned to the 479 Flying Training Group, represented Air Force Recruiting Service Detachment 1 twice in the last month, connecting with youth from all over the country.

She is one of 475 members of the Det. 1 Aviation Inspiration Mentorship (AIM) team supporting outreach and engagement activities aimed to inform, influence, and inspire the next generation of aviators. AIM members are Rated Diversity Improvement (RDI) ambassadors who provide mentorship by sharing their personal experiences during in-person and virtual engagements.

At her first event, Girls in Aviation Day in Dallas, Texas, Thompson and the AIM team inspired more than 500 females, ages of 8-18, toward a future in aviation and all things STEM related.

“It was so rewarding watching their eyes light up when we talked to them, you could see them envision themselves as Air Force aviators. I felt like a super hero all day” reflected Thompson.

Every event Det. 1 participates in is different.  Whether it has a simulator station, a model C-17 Globemaster III fuselage, or virtual reality headsets, the team always tries to engage youth with fun and free games to the public. 

“This time we ran a booth and two virtual reality simulators, enabling the aspiring aviators to fly an F-35 Lightning II through an obstacle course” explained Thompson, “It was a huge hit!”

In addition to the games and foam airplanes Det. 1 provides at events, the AIM team presence really means they have an opportunity to interact with all event participants, family, friends and sometimes, event faculty.

“Simply, if a girl sees me in a flight suit and it triggers a reaction of, ‘I can do that too!’ then it’s a successful event,” said Thompson. ”It’s a much longer game for Det. 1 and AIMs and short game for standard recruiters.”

Participating in events with youth at an early age inspires them to pursue an education in STEM that sets them up for success for a career in aviation 10-15 years from now, well in advance of having what they need to be eligible to apply for a rated position in the Air Force

After a successful event with Girls in Aviation Day, Thompson volunteered for another event just two weeks later which enabled her to return to her hometown of Pearland, Texas.  While tere she visited her alma mater, Pearland High School, and represented Det. 1

“It was a surreal experience walking the halls that I used to know so well. This high school was a huge part of my life and led all of the opportunities I’ve experienced so far.”

It now marks 15 years since Thompson was a student at Pearland High School and she still gives back when she can by meeting with the current student athletes about her experiences in the military, specifically as a rated officer in the Air Force.

“It was incredible getting to talk to and watch the volleyball team; since volleyball was my whole life in high school,” explained Thompson, “I hope I gave them a role model to look up to knowing that I was once one of them.”

At the Wings Over Houston Airshow Oct. 9-10, Thompson paired up with recruiters from the region as the only officer and aviator at the tent, a first for the AIM team to manage an event solo. She answered multiple questions on becoming an officer and even thinks she inspired an enlisted Marine to pursue a career as an Air Force aviator.

“My biggest win of the weekend was explaining to people that I was in fact not a pilot; I am a Combat Systems Officer and what that means.”

AIM members cover all four rated career fields, pilot, CSO, air battle manager, and remotely piloted aircraft (RPA) Pilots.  This provides a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the various avenues to aviation and explains first hand there is not one way to apply and be selected for a rated career in the Air Force.

 “It was an awesome opportunity that I am thankful the AIM team afforded me,”  Thompson said. “Times like these let me share my passion for aviation and what I do with my two year old niece and nephew.  Even though they don’t understand now, hopefully when they do they’ll want to follow in my footsteps.”

Thompson’s involvement with the AIM Program and her understanding of the mission resulted in her also being the first AIM member to represent Det. 1 solo at an event.

“Overall, it was a very rewarding experience. I think the biggest part of being with the AIM team is not necessarily pulling in future recruits, but being a visible presence,” Thompson said. “’Inform. Influence. Inspire.’ is the AIM motto and that’s what I set out to do.”

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