Stripes to Wings: Enlisted members become officers and pilots

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman David Phaff
  • 47th Flying Training Wing public affairs

Many Airmen enlist in the Air Force with the dream of traveling, doing a unique job, and looking for a bigger purpose. Some join with the dream to fly, and others develop it while they are in. With over 266,000 enlisted members, it only makes sense that some outstanding Airmen will answer the call and trade their stripes in for a pair of wings.


Capt. Garrett Green, an 87th Flying Training Squadron instructor pilot, is one of these Airmen. He started his Air Force journey as a 1N0X1, or Operational Intelligence, with the 131st Fighter Squadron at the 104th Fighter Wing, Massachusetts. Working closely with pilots and F-15Cs inspired and showed him a new world of possibilities giving him the push he needed to make the jump himself and become a pilot.


“At the squadron level, I would be involved with the development of realistic scenarios that the pilots could train to,” said Green. “I got to take part in Red Flag and a couple other exercises around the world. I really enjoyed the job and learned a ton while doing it.”


He worked along pilots and friends seeing the mission unfold firsthand, while being a part of all the planning, all this talking about the flying scenarios made Green wanted to be a part of them. He wanted to be the one flying loops and practice being in dog fight.


"One day, it dawned on me, I took part in all of the pre-mission preparation and post-mission debriefings, but I didn’t actually get to take part in what was going on,” said Green. “After that, I was very motivated to become ‘the operator’ instead of being in more of a support role. Also, there were a lot of patches.”


He still remembers his time in Operational Intelligence and all the friends and mentors who helped him reach his goal and learn the type of leader he wanted. He uses his past enlisted experiences to help guide the officer he is today.


“I learned a ton from my leadership and peers in my previous job,” recalled Green. “I enlisted straight out of high school, so the Air Force has been a part of essentially all my adult life. I still think back to things that I learned working in intel to this day.”


Green’s path led him to the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (AFROTC), a program to train future officers for the Air Force. In exchange for getting college tuition paid for, they have a mandatory service commitment to the Air Force.


“I ended up going through the AFROTC program to earn my commission and got a pilot training slot,” said Green. “My leadership was very supportive of my goals and helped me a lot along the way, for which I am very thankful.”


During his time in AFROTC he earned a pilot slot, starting his next journey into pilot training. Green quickly learned that he couldn’t just cram the night before a test like he did in college – it took hundreds of hours of studying and flying. After a long year, his dreams were realized, and he graduated pilot training. He then went on to become an instructor pilot.


As an instructor he gets the opportunity to fly as much as he wants and found a new passion in teaching others how to fly and being a part of seeing other also achieve their aspirations.


“I enjoy watching the students go from learning how to start the T-38 when they first show up, to us flying solo in a four-ship formation by the end of the program,” said Green. “It’s very rewarding to see them grow as aviators and officers over the six months that they spend in Phase Three.”


There are other ways for enlisted to move to the officer track and try to become pilots. Earning a bachelor’s degree to apply for Officer Training School (OTS), a path that 2nd Lt. Garrent Allen took. Allen is a student currently awaiting pilot training at the 47th Flying Training Wing.


While being a prior Air Traffic Control Specialist, Allen decided to commission and attend OTS, hoping for a pilot slot in order to achieve his childhood dream.


“Aviation has been a particular interest of mine since I was a kid,” said Allen. “During summer break from school, I remember spending days at my local airport watching planes come and go and listening to the radio chatter on my phone.”


Both members found something they wanted to do and took the steps to get it. They found ways to achieve their goals with the help of mentors and leaders from their past careers. The move from enlisted to officer can have many challenges but can also bring much reward.


“I would say if you want to do it, then go for it,” said Green. “From what I’ve seen in my relatively short career, there’s usually a way to get to where you want to be. It may not be a direct route, but if you really want it, you can get there. Make sure your leadership is tracking on your goals, and they usually will want to help you achieve them. Lastly, whatever job you have right now, excel at it. People notice when you do good work whether you think they’re paying attention or not”