Military, government, or law enforcement experience:
The aviation bug first bit when I flew for the first time, at the age of 5, on Eastern Airlines from Philadelphia to Greensboro, NC to see my grandparents. I knew immediately after the jet was airborne that I wanted to be an airline pilot. I loved how the jet pushed me back in my seat during the takeoff roll. I started flying lessons at age 14, at a brand new airport in Johnstown, NY, and flew one hour every other week. I paid for the lessons with paper route money, and my parents would pay for an occasional lesson as a birthday or X-mas gift. I again headed down to see my grandparents for the summer just before my 16th birthday, and flew a couple of times a week at Shiloe airport in preparation for my solo. I finally soloed in a Cessna 152 a week after my 16th birthday, and then returned to NY to start my junior year of high school. Though this story sounds like it's unfolding nicely, it takes a strange turn. I just stopped flying. I suppose I became an inmature, preoccupied teenager with other priorities. I could have been a staight "A" student had I wanted to be, but I really didn't care about school (even without studying, I still managed to make honor roll sometimes) In my senior year, my Dad set the terms: "at age 18, you're out of the house, not a day later, and we're not paying for college". My Mom posed the idea of the Coast Guard to me. My uncle had made a career of it, and had done well for himself. He had risen through the ranks, and took advantage of all the educational benefits. Though a high school dropout, he had obtained a Master's Degree, and all courtesy of Uncle Sam's dollar. Since I certainly wasn't ready for college, the CG sounded like a great idea. Plus, I'd never considered myself the military type, and thought it would be a great way to test myself. Anyway, I shipped off to boot camp in Cape May, NJ 10 days out of high school, and loved it. Boot camp was extremely tough mentally, and in some regards physically, and it was definitely not fun, but I loved the experience. I also viewed it a chance to start over, and worked my tail off. I graduated near the top of my company 8 weeks later, and found myself as junior enlisted man, just turned 18, on a ship out of Hawaii (I choose to go there because I knew it was making a trip to Hong Kong). When I reported aboard, I received a hard dose of reality. As I scrubbed pot and pans, and cleaned toilets, I quickly learned the difference between Officer and Enlisted, college degree vs. no college degree. I envied the junior officers as I cleaned their state rooms, and served them dinner. I knew there was no reason I couldn't be one of them. I made it my mission in life to get a commission, and did all the right things necessary to accomplish that goal. I went to college while stationed in Miami (got straight A's), did community service, and did well at my job as a Quartermaster. After 7 years enlisted, and as an E6, I was accepted to Officer Candidate School (OCS) in New London, CT. I viewed this as a perfect opportunity to fulfill my other dream, being a pilot. Again, I made it my mission to graduate at the top of my class, and I was fortunate enough to get accepted to Navy Flight School while in OCS. OCS was 17 long weeks (think of the movie "Groundhog's Day"), the longest of any of the services. I was commissioned on Dec 18th, 1998, and then headed to Pensacola, Fl. There, I trained in the T-34 from Apr 1999 to Oct 1999, and then moved to Corpus Christi, TX to train in the T-44 (King Air)from Oct '99 to Mar 00. Flight school was very stressful. I rarely had a good night's sleep, and often couldn't eat breakfast due to nerves. But despite all the worrying, I did well. While in Corpus Christi I learned I would be flying the HU-25 Guardian Falcon, the plane I wanted from day 1. I received my wings on Mar 24, 2000, and then reported to the Coast Guard Aviation Training Center in Mobile, AL for the 7 week transition (T) course to the HU-25. After completing the T course, I was designated a Co-pilot. I upgraded to Aircraft Commander about 2 and a half years later. It's an unbelievably fun job. Some of the reasons: Flying low and fast over the water (100ft/??? kts), doing a training flight to an airport 1000 miles away, grabbing lunch at a downtown restaurant, and then flying back home, air shows, locating people missing at sea, patrolling high profile areas, and deploying to Caribbean islands for 10 days.
Favorite thing about flying:
I love flying into new places. Not necessarily places I've never been to, just places I never flown into. Though 8000' of pavement is the same where ever you go, it still feels like you're doing something different when you land at a city you've never flown into. Plus, I love to sightsee during the descent to the field.
Disadvatages of being a pilot:
In the Coast Guard, you have a number of other jobs called collateral duties that aren't flying related. You may be the Public Affairs Officer, Morale Officer, Law Enforcement Officer, or Communications Officer for your unit. There are countless other jobs I haven't listed. You're regarded as an Officer first, Pilot second (though I think the reality is that we all think the opposite).
What you would have done different:
DIFFERENTLY I would have done better in High School, got an Air Force ROTC scholarship, and flown fighters. I can't think of anything that would top flying an F-15 or 16. I watch those guys at air shows and drool with envy. On that note, I am grateful for the opportunity I've been given though.
Advice to aspiring pilots:
Want to be a Military Pilot?- Bust your butt in high school! The Academies ROTC, and OCS are extremely competitive (Coast Guard Academy was the Nation's most selective school a couple of year back).
Problems encounterd along the way:
As a pilot, none. I have no doubt the military has the best training out there, and obviously, finances aren't an issue when going that route. The toughest part is getting accepted into an officer accession program for any service, and then making it through flight training. Navy Flight School is not fun! I saw several people drop out after 1 or 2 flights because it wasn't at all what they expected. The instructors are tough, and you are overwhelmed with information, especially the first few months. If you don't stack up, you'll be "washed out". I saw this happen on several occasions as well. Talk to people in depth who have been through the program. If you can stick it out though, the reward is great. I can't believe I get paid to do what I do!