An official website of the United States government
Here's how you know
A .mil website belongs to an official U.S. Department of Defense organization in the United States.
A lock (lock ) or https:// means you’ve safely connected to the .mil website. Share sensitive information only on official, secure websites.

Alaskan Native Goes Home, Tears Down Barriers to Becoming a Pilot

  • Published
  • By Miriam Thurber
  • Air Force Recruiting Service

Airman 1st Class Ashley Mute removed her hat and stepped into her old high school, straightening her uniform as she crossed the threshold. “Look,” Mute pointed to the trophy case, “there’s my sister and her volleyball team.”

Mute, a material manager with the 673rd Logistics Readiness Squadron, led the team of seven Air Force officers, enlisted and civilians into her old gymnasium. She began unpacking a virtual reality headset and launched the program to take students virtually into the air with the Thunderbirds, the Air Force’s F-16 demonstration team.

One student sat down and tried on the VR headset. He immediately began ducking and dodging, turning his head up and down for a 360-degree view as his simulated aircraft rolled through the sky.

Another student noticed Mute’s name on her uniform and asked if the Airman knew her best friend. Mute lit up, “that’s my cousin!” The two began discussing their family ties and Alaskan roots, as well as the student’s plan after graduation. Once the student rushed off to class, Mute turned and smiled.

“I love Alaska because of the community, and that’s why I love the Air Force too,” Mute said. For her, the Air Force represents a larger family who looks out for each other. “I grew up with this saying that ‘I don’t want to be better than my people; I want to be better with my people,’ and I bring that with me every day at work.”

Before enlisting, Mute had only left her home state four times. When she stepped off the bus at Basic Military Training, she found herself—for the first time in her life—in a room with people who had not grown up in Alaska. “It was culture shock,” she said. Not only did she need to learn military structure and culture, but she also came face-to-face with people of different backgrounds and beliefs.  

“When you find yourself in situations that are new and uncomfortable, that’s when you grow. I’m truly grateful to the Air Force for opportunities to grow and to see the world,” Mute said.

In another Sitka high school across town, Capt. Elyse Oliver, a C-5 pilot out of Travis Air Force Base, Calif., laughed trying to explain just how big her aircraft is.

“It’s the largest aircraft in the U.S. military’s fleet,” Oliver said to a student. “I can’t imagine flying anything else—we require a large crew, and they’re all exceptional. We work hard and we get to travel the world together.”

The student nodded and asked a few more questions about serving as a pilot in the Air Force, and then about flying in general. Oliver answered his questions and then helped him begin an application to the AIM HIGH Flight Academy, a three-week program that teaches aviation basics and equips graduates with up to 15 hours of flight experience.

The skills and lessons learned throughout the program give graduates the necessary knowledge and experience to excel in the Air Force’s pilot selection process, should they decide to pursue careers as Air Force aviators. However, attending the flight academy does not incur any commitment to military service. 

From September 6-11, 2023, teams from Det.1 visited 48 schools and community centers throughout Sitka, Anchorage, Juneau, Kodiak, Galena and Fairbanks to help students apply for AIM HIGH Flight Academy scholarships and answer questions about what life is like as an aviator.

Learn more about the U.S. Air Force and aviation opportunities here, or visit the Det.1 website to read about their mission to inform, influence and inspire the next generation of leaders.