Students become Air Force leaders

Into the Blue — Meet the future pilots, doctors and missileers of the U.S. Air Force. Photo credit: Molly Fobes, AFROTC

On the afternoon before graduation, 10 Liberty University students will take the first major step of their careers when they are sworn in as officers in the United States Air Force.

The Air Force ROTC program has grown from six cadets in the first commissioning class in 2008 to more than 50 students total, and it continues to grow. The program is based out of Detachment 890 at the University of Virginia, and Liberty is the largest group of commuters.

Cadet Lt. Col. Brandon Roop, commander of the training and operations squadron, said it has always been his dream to be an Air Force officer.

“That has been my goal since I was 11 years old — to be (a career) officer,” he said. “I want to make a career and go as far as I can, take every advantage I can.”

An officer career field (Air Force specialty code 18X) was established in October 2009 for Remotely Piloted Aircraft (RPA) pilots — the airmen who fly unmanned aircraft like the Predator drones over Iraq and Afghanistan. Training began last year to “create a professional cadre of RPA pilots to meet joint warfighter requirements,” according to an Air Force public affairs story.

Roop will leave in a month for Randolph AFB, near San Antonio, Texas, to become an RPA pilot. He said the abrupt change in his life is a bit of a shock.

“It’s exciting, and it’s nerve-wracking at the same time, because I don’t know what to expect,” Roop said. “Three weeks after I graduate, I’m gone — away from family and everything — to start training. It’s nice because you get job security and a paycheck right away, but at the same time, it’s kind of a culture shock going straight into it.”

Similar transitions are in store for the other graduating cadets. Cadets Jason Williams, Sam Morrissey and Brian Bundrick will train to pilot manned aircraft, while Detachment 890 Wing Commander Cadet Col. Dan Milton will attend pilot training at Sheppard AFB, Texas as part of a NATO multinational combat pilot training program. Liberty Group Commander Cadet Lt. Col. Matthew Penfold will continue on to medical school, and Cadet Capt. Justine DeChiara will be a nurse. Cadets David Reynolds, Amanda Persons and Brad Perkins will be joining Air Force Space Command to work with satellites and ballistic missiles.

Having a direct and visible impact on the overall Air Force mission and national security is what appeals the most to Roop about his new career.

“Being RPA, I’m in the (Operations) group, so my work affects the outcome of the mission,” he said. “Knowing that my work (will directly impact the mission) and maybe save lives is really gratifying.”

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