Leadership Lessons: From Pilot to PA

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. James Fisher
  • 319th Air Base Wing Public Affairs officer-in-charge
Throughout college I was a cadet in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC). While in AFROTC, I had only one job in mind; I was going to be a pilot. This isn't an uncommon aspiration for a modern Air Force cadet partly because a lot of cadets join without fully understanding what their career field options are. The other part of it is the status that comes with it. If you earned a pilot slot, not only were you looked upon as an outstanding cadet, you were considered cool among your peers. My three best buds and I shared this common goal; we were going to fly together. Well, that dream of ours came true... for all of us. During our junior year of college, each of us received pilot slots. We had jumped through the several necessary hoops to accomplish this; things were going according to plan. For our junior year, each of us wore pilot wings on our blues and rocked the flight suit. The final hoop to jump through prior to starting our initial flight screening was the flight physical. I went into this confident that there wouldn't be any problems; I mean after all, each of us had received multiple physicals prior to this...

We flew out to Wright Patterson AFB to accomplish this final stepping stone. Little did we know, one of us would be disqualified... and that one was me. During this two-day physical we received multiple vision tests, which included overall eye sight, depth perception and color vision. Things were going smooth for me until the color-vision test. Upon completing the color-vision test a representative came into the room and explained to me that I may have a minor deficiency in seeing the color red, a faint shade of pink. At this point, she took me back into a separate room and had me take several types of tests, each focusing on the color red. After a couple of hours, a doctor came in and confirmed that I had a partial color blindness to the color red and that it would automatically disqualify me from being a pilot. He further explained that this was a hereditary trait that couldn't be fixed or waived. My dream of being a pilot in the Air Force came to a screeching halt.

Honestly, I didn't know what to think. What was I to do now? I just lost what I had been preparing for throughout the last three years. At this point in time, I hadn't even looked into any other career fields; I didn't know what to tell my friends and family. Everyone knew how excited I was to soar the skies, now I had to tell them that all of my work and preparation was for nothing?

After receiving the news, I had to go back out to the waiting room with all the other cadets (all of which were from other detachments throughout the United States). I sat in the back of the room and listened to each of them talk about the airframes that they were looking to fly and why they wanted to fly them. None of them knew that I had just been disqualified. That afternoon seemed to last forever.

When I returned to my detachment, I turned in my flight suit and told my friends. I'd be lying if I said this news didn't rock my world, but oddly enough it didn't for long. It put me in a funk for a few days but then I realized something. I didn't sign up for ROTC for the free college (which didn't happen), nor did I have a life-long dream of becoming a pilot. I wanted to serve my country. I knew some folks who only wanted to join the Air Force if they could fly; these were the same guys and gals that dreamt of flying since their childhood, which wasn't the case for me. Unfortunately, I got sucked into this mindset that in order to be an amazing officer, I needed to do extraordinary things in the sky. I thought I needed to be like Jimmy Doolittle or Eddie Rickenbacker if I wanted to make a real difference, but I was wrong.

The day I handed in my flight suit was the same day I learned a little about Public Affairs. I read the 200 word or less description and saw it aligned with my particular degree and decided to put that as my number one selection for re-class. At this point in time, I didn't care if I received it or not because I knew that I'd be placed wherever the Air Force needed me. A few months later I learned that I was chosen for PA. If someone were to have told me that I'd be a public affairs officer in Grand Forks, North Dakota as a second lieutenant I would have laughed out loud, which I'm sure a lot of people can relate to with their respective jobs now. In all seriousness though, I wouldn't change a thing. Public Affairs has been an excellent experience so far, I love my job and enjoy the team I work with.

The reason why I share this story is to reiterate the importance of adapting to change. Everything happens for a reason, and as Gen. Darren W. McDew, commander of Air Mobility Command, puts it, "You can't always control what happens, but you can control what happens next." Whether you're mission support or operations, your job is important.

If you find yourself unhappy with the job you were given, making the change to the job you want is entirely up to you. Getting selected for pilot didn't come easy, from working out four-five times a week to studying countless hours into the night; I gave it my all with that intended end result in mind. Though I lost that pilot slot, the habits I developed from working towards it remained. I think it is important to remember that success is not an accident, it is a choice. So ask yourself, are the habits you have today on par with the dreams you have for tomorrow?