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lph1235

To enlist or not to enlist?

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Hello all,

I’m a junior in high school, and my dream job is to become an AF pilot. I’ve been hanging around this forum as well as getting in touch with some AF pilots on airlinepilotcentral. I heard from an F-16 guy in the ANG that a good route to go is to enlist in the guard/reserves before college to get it paid for and then apply to units after college. The other routes I could go would be either to not enlist before college and apply to units afterwards or to do ROTC and then hope for a guard/reserve spot. For me, I think ROTC would be a huge risk because the chance of getting selected for ANG/AFRC instead of AD is pretty low from what I understand, not to mention you could get stuck with a non-pilot job. There is also the problem with my eyes. I had two surgeries at 3-4 years old to correct strabismus, but I’ve seen that someone on here had a similar issue and was able to make it through. Has anyone here gone the route of enlisting before college and then applying to units after college? If I went this route, would I be able to get an FC1 at Wright-Patt while I was enlisted to see if I’d be able to pursue guard/reserve flying after college? Thanks to all for taking the time to read about my situation.

Edited by lph1235

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I don't recommend enlisting with the primary intent of becoming a pilot. Enlisting *can* help give you an edge on the hiring boards; however, there are a lot of other pieces to the puzzle to consider. There are a lot of *what ifs* to mull over as well. Say, you enlist and later on down the road become medically DQ'd from ever flying--seen that happen a number of times--are you prepared to accept that potential reality? You also need to understand once you enlist and graduate technical training, the USAF will have influence over your life. Even in the Guard/Reserve. Your personal career goals and what the Air Force needs from you may not always align. I'd know. I've done it. And it poses unique challenges to securing a UPT slot or reaching other professional goals. Unless you're totally committed to doing an enlisted job with the understanding you may simply never get selected, become medically DQ'd, rect...don't enlist. Lots of guys and gals get hired off the street. The off-the-street applicants who get selected typically already have significant aviation experience (not always, but more often that not in my observation). Most also have pretty impressive resumes. The last fighter unit I interviewed with had over 100 applications for two slots. 19 were selected to interview. Two hired with two alternates put on standby. The 19 selected, save me and one other prior-E guy, all had impressive aviation creds: CFIs, regional FOs, air ambulance drivers, ect. And most had STEM degrees with excellent grades/scores to boot. We had a NASA guy, several engineers of various other flavors, a high-speed attorney, a CPA that had more money than God (gathered from small talk). If your goal is to fly, focus on flying and school. Take some PPL lessons to ensure you have both a passion and aptitude for flying. Then maybe consider looking into part 141/university flight programs. Really hit the books hard and keep your grades up. Yeah, I know, loans suck...but if want to fly in the ANG/ARC, make flying and school paramount. I'm not saying all this to discourage you. Just understand you're stepping into a really competitive arena.  You're young and have time, but I recommend going straight for the kill and bee-lining it to what you want from life: AF Pilot Wings.    

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I recommend enlisting. It worked for me and many others. There is nothing wrong with an enlisted career if you were medically DQ’d later down the road. Just my 2 cents. 

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19 minutes ago, STOIKY said:

I don't recommend enlisting with the primary intent of becoming a pilot. Enlisting *can* help give you an edge on the hiring boards; however, there are a lot of other pieces to the puzzle to consider. There are a lot of *what ifs* to mull over as well. Say, you enlist and later on down the road become medically DQ'd from ever flying--seen that happen a number of times--are you prepared to accept that potential reality? You also need to understand once you enlist and graduate technical training, the USAF will have influence over your life. Even in the Guard/Reserve. Your personal career goals and what the Air Force needs from you may not always align. I'd know. I've done it. And it poses unique challenges to securing a UPT slot or reaching other professional goals. Unless you're totally committed to doing an enlisted job with the understanding you may simply never get selected, become medically DQ'd, rect...don't enlist. Lots of guys and gals get hired off the street. The off-the-street applicants who get selected typically already have significant aviation experience (not always, but more often that not in my observation). Most also have pretty impressive resumes. The last fighter unit I interviewed with had over 100 applications for two slots. 19 were selected to interview. Two hired with two alternates put on standby. The 19 selected, save me and one other prior-E guy, all had impressive aviation creds: CFIs, regional FOs, air ambulance drivers, ect. And most had STEM degrees with excellent grades/scores to boot. We had a NASA guy, several engineers of various other flavors, a high-speed attorney, a CPA that had more money than God (gathered from small talk). If your goal is to fly, focus on flying and school. Take some PPL lessons to ensure you have both a passion and aptitude for flying. Then maybe consider looking into part 141/university flight programs. Really hit the books hard and keep your grades up. Yeah, I know, loans suck...but if want to fly in the ANG/ARC, make flying and school paramount. I'm not saying all this to discourage you. Just understand you're stepping into a really competitive arena.  You're young and have time, but I recommend going straight for the kill and bee-lining it to what you want from life: AF Pilot Wings.    

Thanks for taking the time to respond. From all of the hours I’ve spent reading up on forums, I can definitely see that it’s all highly competitive. Luckily, I’m really competitive academically in high school. I am looking to go engineering in college as well, and I plan on getting my civilian ratings so that I can still do the airlines if my eyes end up getting me disqualified.

Edited by lph1235

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8 minutes ago, RunningMan said:

I recommend enlisting. It worked for me and many others. There is nothing wrong with an enlisted career if you were medically DQ’d later down the road. Just my 2 cents. 

Thanks for the response. I have heard that it is a good route to go, so I will definitely consider it. Plus, the tuition benefits seem great.

Edited by lph1235

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6 hours ago, lph1235 said:

do ROTC and then hope for a guard/reserve spot. For me, I think ROTC would be a huge risk because the chance of getting selected for ANG/AFRC instead of AD is pretty low from what I understand

Your right for the most part on this. I'm pretty sure its easy to get selected right now for a ROTC Reserve Pilot Slot. Reserve Command accepts up to 50 ROTC cadets for pilot slots per year and last year there was only 8 cadets selected with 12 cadets the year before that. I don't for sure know if that's because there was only 8 and 12 applicants for those years or because they are extra picky. I would bet its from a lack of applicants since the program's only a few years old and they haven't advertised it too well.

Even if it is easy to get selected now that doesn't mean it will be 5 years or so down the line or even the program will still be around then. Really there is no guarantee of anything in an AFROTC program. There is no guarantee of going Guard/Reserve, no guarantee of a pilot slot, and no guarantee of even getting an enrollment allocation to Field Training, which is needed to continue in ROTC as an upperclassman. Like most things Air Force, it's all dependent on luck and timing. Not a bad route if your main goal is to be an Air Force Officer, but I would not recommend it if your main goal is to be a Reserve/Guard Pilot.

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Just go to college and have a good time, don't worry about the Air Force in any significant way. Get a PPL in your spare time. You're five years away from when you'd be first eligible to get picked up for a flying slot (and that's if you finish college in four years; you're smarter to do it in six). No telling if you'll still want to be a pilot then, much less a member of the military. People change. Don't commit your life so far from the goal.

That said, if you have actual problems paying for a decent state school, enlisting to get that paid for might be a good idea. Given the current hiring environment, enlisting to up your odds of getting hired by a Guard or Reserve squadron is a fool's errand - people are being hired with practically zero flight time and degrees in art.

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Just going to copy/paste what I put in another thread about enlisting.  Depends on the unit you want to enlist in, but results may vary.  The unit I'm enlisted in is a fighter unit btw. 

Just throwing my .02 out here from the experience I have gone through, I agree with what brabus is saying but I also disagree. I am in a similar situation with my unit. They only hire from within and have only picked off the street one time in that past 10 years. I started college late at 20, enlisted at 21 with a 20k bonus with a year of college under my belt, went to BMT and crew chief tech school which were 8 months, so had to miss a year of school. Now graduating at 25 with equivalent of about year and a half of TIS being a DSG, great contacts, awards, back seat ride in the Viper, gained a lot of respect for the enlisted side, and got to enjoy college while only having to give up one weekend a month. Enlisting did delay the process since I will be putting in my first application next month, but I wouldn't have changed a thing. ALSO,  the monthly GI bill for school is a nice $780 a month, and just having a military ID is very helpful. As for AFSC's I was always told to try and get AFE (aircrew flight equipment) or something in OPS, but none were available. So crew chief was the next best, I'm in phase docks so not much exposure to pilots, but just walk on over to OPS and majority of guard pilots that I've spoken to are more than willing to sit down and talk about the slot and anyway they can help. 

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I always shake my head a little bit when folks hand out the "don't enlist" advice so quickly.  You can't underestimate how important it is for a guard unit to find people that will be a good fit for the unit.  That is why you hear certain units "only hire from within".  If you are a junior in HS, set yourself up to go to basic right after you graduate.  Enlist in something that involves the aircraft like maintenance or life support.  At a minimum, either of those career fields gives you a head start on knowing the aircraft and its systems.  Yes, your tech school will eat into your first or second semester but you can always CLEP classes or take online courses while you are in tech school to keep college credits coming in.  If you get medically DQ'd down the road or don't get picked up, at least you will have served your country, been a part of the guard, worked with great people and probably got college paid for.  Being a pilot isn't the only way to serve.  If you think otherwise,  you aren't a good fit anyway.  The E's make it happen and deserve the most respect.  With that said, the best guard officers I have ever worked with are prior Es.  Hands down.  There is a reason for that.  They have earned the respect.

Edited by lloyd christmas
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I think it all comes down to how bad your eyes are and if you really only want guard/reserve or if you could live with AD. 

Under the assumption you only want guard/reserve I would do this.

1. If you want to fly heavies, apply for a loadmaster job 1A2XX at the unit you want to fly for. You get a FC2 physical which is less eye intensive but during one of my flight physicals later on, not my initial. I asked about doing the Pilot version when I was a load master and flight med let me. ( I attempted to transfer to be a Helicopter Pilot for the Army).  This could potentially show you if you could get medically DQ'd early on.  If you want fighters id follow the advice of those who posted before me and go AFE or crew chief. 

2. Clep a bunch of classes during your enlisted tech school, they are free the first time you attempt them. I clepped my English classes, math, science, computer basics, Social Science and History. You can even clep public speaking. My point being this will help make up for the time you spent in Basic and your other tech schools. 

3. Once you get to your main job I would grind through school and attempt to get flight hours at a 141 school. Assuming you did a 4 year enlistment you should be right on course with your peers. But now you have prior service, a degree, and flight hours. With experience as Aircrew with the Unit you hopefully still want to fly for.  

If you dont care if you go AD. If you know in your heart of hearts you want to serve then go to the Academy in my opinion. 

1. Apply for the Academy

2. Apply for ROTC

 

Disclaimer: I did not go any of those routes but the guard/reserve one is what my friend did and it worked for him. I was AD for 6 years because I wanted free college, I clepped a ton of classes during tech school and then did one or two classes at the education center at my base. I had 80 credits after 6 years because I was slow rolling it. I separated and went to school full time and choose a degree that allowed my Post 911 to pay for my ratings. I applied for the Reserve board as Unsponsored got accepted and I am currently waiting on my dates. If I could do it over again differently I would of at least tried for the Academy or ROTC when I was your age. I believe being prior enlisted makes me more competitive but I don't look down on people who haven't enlisted, infact they seem just as competitive. I don't think hiring only from within is a solid strategy and could potentially limit diversity but I am not currently an Air Force Pilot and know nothing about hiring. So my opinion doesnt mean shit haha. As most active duty pilots were never enlisted before and most of them are great people who all have different backgrounds and methods of becoming AF pilots. Overall if you are floating the idea of joining the Air Force you should probably just go to a school that you want and look at ROTC and then do your PPL in your free time to see if you even enjoy flying. No need to sign anything right now because the Air Force will always be there and you have plenty of time.  Good Luck!

 

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4 hours ago, HDESP said:

I think it all comes down to how bad your eyes are and if you really only want guard/reserve or if you could live with AD. 

Under the assumption you only want guard/reserve I would do this.

1. If you want to fly heavies, apply for a loadmaster job 1A2XX at the unit you want to fly for. You get a FC2 physical which is less eye intensive but during one of my flight physicals later on, not my initial. I asked about doing the Pilot version when I was a load master and flight med let me. ( I attempted to transfer to be a Helicopter Pilot for the Army).  This could potentially show you if you could get medically DQ'd early on.  If you want fighters id follow the advice of those who posted before me and go AFE or crew chief. 

2. Clep a bunch of classes during your enlisted tech school, they are free the first time you attempt them. I clepped my English classes, math, science, computer basics, Social Science and History. You can even clep public speaking. My point being this will help make up for the time you spent in Basic and your other tech schools. 

3. Once you get to your main job I would grind through school and attempt to get flight hours at a 141 school. Assuming you did a 4 year enlistment you should be right on course with your peers. But now you have prior service, a degree, and flight hours. With experience as Aircrew with the Unit you hopefully still want to fly for.  

If you dont care if you go AD. If you know in your heart of hearts you want to serve then go to the Academy in my opinion. 

1. Apply for the Academy

2. Apply for ROTC

 

Disclaimer: I did not go any of those routes but the guard/reserve one is what my friend did and it worked for him. I was AD for 6 years because I wanted free college, I clepped a ton of classes during tech school and then did one or two classes at the education center at my base. I had 80 credits after 6 years because I was slow rolling it. I separated and went to school full time and choose a degree that allowed my Post 911 to pay for my ratings. I applied for the Reserve board as Unsponsored got accepted and I am currently waiting on my dates. If I could do it over again differently I would of at least tried for the Academy or ROTC when I was your age. I believe being prior enlisted makes me more competitive but I don't look down on people who haven't enlisted, infact they seem just as competitive. I don't think hiring only from within is a solid strategy and could potentially limit diversity but I am not currently an Air Force Pilot and know nothing about hiring. So my opinion doesnt mean shit haha. As most active duty pilots were never enlisted before and most of them are great people who all have different backgrounds and methods of becoming AF pilots. Overall if you are floating the idea of joining the Air Force you should probably just go to a school that you want and look at ROTC and then do your PPL in your free time to see if you even enjoy flying. No need to sign anything right now because the Air Force will always be there and you have plenty of time.  Good Luck!

 

Thank you. I definitely do not want to commit to the Academy or ROTC. I do believe my eyes are good enough to fly,  but there will always be that bit of doubt in my mind. I’ve spent a lot of time looking through the regs and even found someone on here who was in a similar situation and made it through. My eye alignment is fine, DP is fine, and I’ll have Lasik done in a few years. However, the bottom line is that I do not want to commit to AD, and then find out at Wright-Patt that I can’t fly and have to serve my commitment doing something else. At least if I go AFRC/ANG, I am not tied into serving in a different role if I am DQ’d. For sure, if I was dead-set on serving in the AF, with flying just as the icing on the cake, then I’d be looking at the Academy and ROTC.

Edited by lph1235

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