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Trading Beret for a Flight Suit

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan A. Conley
  • 171st Air Refueling Wing
Senior Airman Demetrio V. Vega, a Security Forces journeyman and Base Defense Operations Center operator, is scheduled to attend the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program, receive his commission and become a KC-135 pilot.
SUPT is a demanding 58 week long course dedicated to training the best pilots in the world. The selection process is highly competitive with only a select few applicants gaining acceptance.  This three- phase course tasks candidates both academically and physically with final selections based on the students’ merit and upon instructor recommendation. The culmination of this intense training progression results in the candidate being awarded the prestigious and highly coveted silver wings of an Air Force aviator. It is an endeavor that requires dedication, focused ambition and passion.

    When asked about his number one passion in life, Senior Airman Vega answered definitively.

            “That one’s easy,” said Vega. “I actually answered this for my board. Flying is my absolute ambition for everything. That feeling when you lift off the ground and you’re in the air. I just can’t really describe it. There’s just nothing like it. It’s like that first time somebody goes skydiving, every time. I’ve never had a bad day flying.”

            As a civilian and student pilot, Vega was approached by a family friend that was in the Air Force.

            “Lt. Col. Nixon asked me ‘do you still want to be a pilot?’” said Vega. “‘In about three years, I could get you into a pilot’s seat, if that’s something you’d be interested in, but you’d probably have to enlist first.’ Two weeks later, I was enlisted. Best choice I ever made.”

            Vega made the life-changing leap to follow his dream and accomplish his goal.

            “The only reason I joined the military was to become a military pilot,” said Vega. “I want to do my whole twenty (years) as a pilot here, fly the refuelers, or the KC-46’s, which would be awesome. Do my twenty, get out, and fly civilian.”

            Along with getting his civilian license, Vega’s whole life seems to be shaped around aircraft.

            “It’s been the only thing since I can remember,” said Vega. “My parents said when I was an infant that they took us to an air show and said I loved it. I had one of those little bouncy things you put your kids in. Mine was an Airplane, and I’d cry every time they took me out of it. As far back as I can remember, it was airplanes.”

            An early mentor and family friend was a B-17 pilot.

            “One of my dad’s work friends was a B-17 pilot back in WWII,” said Vega. “His name was Enoch Perkins. He would always tell me war stories. He actually wrote a book and I read it. It was a log of all his missions and stuff. It’s really cool. It’s just been compounded and compounded.”

            Yet another compounding childhood influence was a WWII era movie.

            “Top Gun” came out, and everybody wanted to be a pilot,” said Vega. “But, the aircraft movie for me that I love more than the rest of them is actually called “Memphis Belle”. It’s about the B-17 Memphis Belle back in WWII. It’s not historically accurate but it’s still pretty visceral. I think I wore that VHS out when I was a little kid.”

            But it’s not only his pursuit to become a military aviator that defines Vega.

            Along with his normal duties as a full-time Security Forces member, he has taken on other responsibilities. He, along with Senior Airman Brandon Pelosi, also assigned to the 171st SFS, head the Peer to Peer Mentoring Program for new Airmen coming to the unit. He is currently wrapping up his bachelors degree at Franklin University in applied management. On his days off from the base, he works part-time as a postal services contractor, sorting out overfill and priority packages on behalf of the United States Postal Services. He plays in a hockey league for “The Channel 4 News” team and hopes to get back into coaching kids.

             “That’s something that I’d really like to get back into,” said Vega. “You develop some really great relationships with other coaches and the kids. They really need that structure. It’s nice to not only help them with the sport but on the outside.”

            Along with coaching, Vega has put other interests aside to include Jiu-Jitsu and Mixed Martial Arts. He’s toned down his hockey to avoid injuries that may affect reaching his goal.

             “I can’t afford any injuries,” said Vega. “I’m a one speed guy, all go-no quit. Even with the hockey I’m laying back a bit, maybe not diving into the corner and stuff like that.”

            Barring physical risks, Vega is taking something of a career-risk if his plans fall through.

            “Once I head out and go away for pilot training, and if I don’t make it through, pretty much my military career is over,” said Vega. “So I’m taking a huge gamble.”

            By leaving Security Forces, Vega will be leaving friends and comrades.

            “I’m going to miss the squadron,” said Vega. “There’s some really great people here. We’re serious about getting our job done and making sure that we’re doing things correctly. There’s some great people. We have a lot of laughs and a lot of good times. One way or another, I’m going to miss it.”

            As much as he’ll miss his unit, they will most assuredly miss him as he pursues his lofty goal.

            To paraphrase Michelangelo Simoni, It’s not that we set our goals high and miss the mark, but aim low and hit a bulls-eye that leads to the folly of a man. As such, Senior Airman Demetrio Vega is an example of a stellar performer. An intelligent and capable Airman that is a boon to our base and the Air Force. So with a tall order set before him, he seeks the great reward that comes from great risk, epitomizing the term.