The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Local and State News

August 17, 2013

54-week journey ends for 13-13

Vance JSUPT class members end long road to pilot wings

ENID, Okla. — Standing in two more or less straight rows, decked out in their sharp dress-blue uniforms, the members of Joint Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training Class 13-13 were minutes away from one the biggest milestones in their lives.

They flanked the sidewalk on the south side of Bldg. 550, the Vance Air Force Base auditorium Friday morning, awaiting their graduation ceremony, chattering among themselves.

Capt. Gabe Corrales, T-38 flight commander, stepped up and gave the group its final instructions.

 He told them where to stand, when to enter, where to sit, the procedure for receiving their wings and when and how to exit.

“If anyone is going to screw up, screw up together,” he said.

Nobody screwed up, though a couple nearly forgot to salute 71st Flying Training Wing Commander Col. Darren James before leaving the stage.

They had reached the conclusion of the 54-week journey that began July 19, 2012, in a classroom in the 71st Student Squadron Building, not far from the base auditorium.

On that long-ago morning, then-Lt. Col. Michael Merritt cautioned them about the long road that lay ahead.

“Probably two, maybe three of you will not make it through phase two,” said Merritt, referring to academic and primary aircraft training.

Of the 29 young officers in the briefing room on that bright, hot July morning, three did, indeed, not make it through phase two. The six Navy students in the room that day left after phase two for continuing training at Naval air facilities, while four Air Force students left for helicopter training at Fort Rucker, Ala. Two students moved, or rolled back, to other classes, one to 13-14 and another to 13-15. Eight joined the class for phase three after their initial training at Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Fla., and one rolled back from class 13-09.

There were 29 at the beginning, 23 present on graduation day.

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