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‘Bloom where you’re planted’

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Cody Gandy
  • Air University Public Affairs

Despite seemingly overwhelming personal tragedy, Grace Tinkey’s decade-long journey of becoming an Air Force pilot has been realized.

Tinkey began her quest to commissioning when she entered the U.S. Air Force Academy in 2013. However, a few months later, family tragedy struck twice, forcing her to leave the academy and delaying her dream of becoming an officer and pilot.

“There were so many emotions the day that I left, I can’t really explain it,” said Tinkey. “I think a lot of peoples’ stories start when they start the academy, but mine started when I left.”

In the years since leaving the academy, Tinkey attained her bachelor’s degree and enlisted in the Air Force. She also finished her master’s degree in Aeronautics Aviation and Safety while on active duty.

It was while serving as a C-17 loadmaster at Joint Base Charleston in South Carolina that her unit leaders saw potential in her and nominated her for the highly competitive Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program in 2021. General Mike Minihan, Air Mobility Command commander, selected her for the program to attend Air Force Officer Training School and receive her commission.

“They vouched so much for me. This opportunity came because of them. I worked hard, too, but I loved that they saw something in me and wanted to build on that,” said Tinkey. “That’s the kind of leader I want to be.” 

Nearly 10 years after starting her journey, Tinkey graduated from OTS on June 3, 2022, with her second lieutenant bars.

“To commission is a dream I’ve been chasing for the past decade,” she said. “Serving in this capacity is something that I will never take for granted, and it’s an extreme honor.”

Tinkey’s dream of becoming a pilot also came true. She was selected for the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program at the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.

“My dream for as long as I’ve been in the Air Force has been to fly fighters,” said Tinkey. “I am so excited and so honored to get to go to this program and get to learn from these instructors every single day.”

ENJJPT is the only multi-national flying training program designed to produce combat pilots for NATO.

“I am so excited about this program. I know it’s going to be extremely difficult, but I’m excited to embrace the grind with my teammates!” she exclaimed. 

Tinkey wants everyone to understand that no matter the circumstances life throws at them that it’s important to never give up on their dreams.

“It makes you have such a different perspective when you embrace the struggles you went through,” she said. “You can either let your circumstances destroy you, or you can let them strengthen you. Do not let your past be a death sentence. … Bloom where you’re planted.”