Off to the Wild Blue Yonder for Eight ROTC Cadets

April 26, 2006

by Julie Carlson, (254) 710-6681

How many of us haven't wanted to "slip the surly bonds of earth and dance the skies on laughter-silvered wings." In 2007, that dream will come true for eight Baylor students.

The students, who are cadets in Baylor Air Force ROTC detachment, were selected to become pilots or navigators in the military. What makes this so unusual is that only the eight applied for flying duty from the ROTC wing and all eight were selected.

According to Lt. Jennifer Taylor, assistant professor of aerospace studies at Baylor, the national average for selection for pilot training is approximately 60 percent. "I have never seen numbers like this," she said.

Lt. Col. David Riel, commander of Baylor ROTC, concurred. "This is fantastic. Eight for eight is unprecedented and a real credit to the hard work and dedication displayed by these cadets. I couldn't be prouder of them and the way they represent our detachment. Baylor AFROTC's strong tradition of excellence lives on," he said.

The cadets apply for pilot/navigator training the year before they graduate and still must complete all their Baylor and ROTC requirements. Those selected are Brandon Dubuisson from Atlanta, Texas; Jeff Johnson from Bay City; Thomas Morrill from Baton Rouge, La.; Austin McCann from Evant; Scott Roark from Tyler, Christi Thielker from Huffman, Texas; and Justin Carmona from Mesquite. Matt Campise from Houston was selected for navigator and pilot alternate.

The Air Force looks at several factors when deciding who will fly its multi-million dollar birds. The students take pilot aptitude tests, but the selection board also considers GPA, physical fitness and ranking given by the detachment commander. Five of the Baylor students are engineering majors with business, biology and international studies making up the other three.

Thielker, the biology major, said flying is in her blood. Her father is a pilot for Continental, and both he and Christi's brother also take part in Civil Air Patrol.

"I have wanted to fly ever since I soloed when I was 16," she said. "I joined (Civil Air Patrol) when I was in high school and applied to go to the CAP flight academy which was a week of flying (about 10 hrs) to eventually solo. Once I was in the plane alone on my solo I thought, people are paid to do this? It was fun and that is really what convinced me to want to fly."

Christi won't learn the type of aircraft she will fly until she completes primary pilot training. Right now, she thinks it "would be awesome to fly a bomber, like a B-1. I don't want to be a fighter pilot, I know that."

Roark does want to be a fighter pilot, dreaming of flying the F-15 Strike Eagle. The engineering major is well on his way since he has been a certified private pilot for two years, plans on starting his instrument flight rating this summer and would like to do aerobatic training the summer after he graduates.

"I have wanted to fly for the military my entire life," said Roark, who serves as wing commander for the Baylor ROTC detachment. "I can remember being at a summer camp when I was maybe five or six and seeing a couple of fighter jets fly over. I knew that some day, I would like to do that."

Having been selected for flight duty, the cadets have committed to at least 10 years to the Air Force. "When I signed my pilot contract, it extended my commitment from four years to 10 years," Roark said. "The Air Force spends millions of dollars training their pilots, so they expect a great time commitment. It doesn't bother me that I have signed such a long contract because I really want to fly."

Before they begin their undergraduate pilot training, the cadets must possess a private pilot's license. The Air Force will pay for the training. After graduation, the students will train at one of the UPT (undergraduate pilot training) bases for approximately one year. These are Sheppard in Wichita Falls, Laughlin in Del Rio, Vance in Enid, Okla., Columbus in Mississippi and Moody in Georgia. From there, they will train in their particular type of aircraft, from fighters and bombers to cargo and tankers.

"These are all fabulous cadets," Taylor said. "I will rest easy knowing that these kids will be Air Force pilots."

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