The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

October 6, 2012

Mountaintop proposal: Student pilot pops the question in Glass Mountains

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — Vance Air Force Base student pilot 2nd Lt. Matt Smokovitz grew up in Canton, Mich., not Canton, Okla., but he nonetheless figures to have a soft spot in his heart for northwest Oklahoma the rest of his life.

Smokovitz, a member of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 13-13, recently took his girlfriend on a weekend trip to Major County’s Glass Mountains. It was there he got down on one knee and proposed.

“At the very top. I made her climb the mountain,” Smokovitz said. “She was shocked.”

Shocked, perhaps, but no less decisive. His fiancee, fellow Air Force 2nd Lt. Jill Szydloski, said yes. The couple hopes to marry next October, though the planning will have to go on long distance since she currently is in intelligence school at Goodfellow AFB, Texas, and both sets of parents are in Michigan. She is from the small southeastern Michigan town of Armada. The two met when both joined the Air Force ROTC program at the University of Michigan. This past weekend was the first time the two had seen one another face-to-face in a month.

“That’s the trouble with that military relationship and planning a wedding,” he said. “We’re doing stuff like this over Skype and having parents involved, parents back home making phone calls for us, getting the details. We’re just trying to piece it all together in between training and make it work.”

Becoming engaged is one of the few activities outside of learning to fly a T-6A Texan II Smokovitz has managed to fit into his busy schedule of late. The demands of JSUPT are keeping him hopping.

“It’s 16-hour days,” he said. “Granted, we only have 12-hour mandatory. You’re going home, you’re getting a plate of food and opening the books again to study.”

Smokovitz grew up in Canton, a township of some 90,000 people located near Ann Arbor. He was a goalkeeper during his high school soccer career at Salem High School.

Flying long has been part of his life, since his father is a private pilot and the family made annual trips to the world-renowned air show in Oshkosh, Wis.

“My dad’s been a pilot since he was 16 years old,” Smokovitz said. “We always went to air shows like Oshkosh. I’ve been going every year. This is the first year I actually missed it.”

He majored in aerospace engineering at Michigan, with his sights firmly set on a career in aviation.

“My personality is, sitting behind a desk just absolutely drives me crazy,” he said. “So I have to be up, I have to keep moving and doing stuff.”

Smokovitz and his classmates recently have completed the “15-day program,” their first 15 days on the flight line, when students constantly are quizzed and expected to memorize information about flight operations and emergency procedures, but are given a certain amount of leeway to make mistakes. However, now that the 15-day program has ended, students are held more directly responsible for their own progress.

“You kind of can hang your own self at this point,” said Smokovitz. “If you don’t study and you don’t put forth the effort, you’re going to fail. The instructors, they’ll help you out, they’ll give you all their effort if you can do the same for them. If you don’t put forth the effort, you’re going to end up failing.

“It’s not like its easy for anyone right now, either. I guess that’s somewhat comforting. You go home and you’re overwhelmed because you are thinking, ‘Man, I’m way behind, I don’t know what’s going on.’ But no one else does either. Everyone’s in the same boat.”

Not getting burned out by the long days and longer weeks is a challenge, Smokovitz said.

“Usually when Friday rolls around you’re just ready to melt,” he said. “Your brain is just mushy by Friday. You definitely have to take one day off on the weekend to recoup — catch up on sleep, catch up with family.”

This is Smokovitz’ first time to be this far away from home for an extended period, so keeping in touch with his family is extremely important to him.

“Being so far away from my family for the first time was pretty rough the first couple of months,” he said. “I would maybe talk to them on the weekend.”

Smokovitz’ family includes an older brother, who recently became president of a group of hospitals in Tennessee.

“We’ve got some good stuff going in our family right now,” he said.