Flying planes under the guidance of the Air Force is a challenge that few high school students achieve.
But three Harrison District Two students this year passed the rigorous Air Force Officer’s Qualification Test and spent the summer high in the sky.
It was an opportunity like no other and demonstrated that Harrison is producing some of the area’s top academic students.
The AFOQT, which resembles the Scholastic Aptitude Test with a hint of aviation for Air Force purposes, is for those wishing to join the United States Air Force as officers and, according to Air Force Ret. Col. Scott Miller, “is really hard.” Miller is the Air Force liaison to Harrison.
But Miller said Harrison and Sierra JROTC students “have done pretty well” on the test, and Air Force officials have asked Miller what he is doing to prepare students for the test.
“They asked me what we are doing to prepare our students because we had gotten the most slots of anybody in his region,” Miller said. “[The kids] are the ones who have put in the effort.”
Four students took the AFOQT and three – Linda McGoff, Delzie Gamez and Nathan Walberer – passed.
Miller, who earned a private pilot’s license in high school, keeps students after school to tutor them for the test.
“I tutor the aviation portion for the kids who are interested in taking the test,” Miller said. “We’ll go until the test deadline, which is usually November.” He proctors the test following Air Force guidelines.
By passing the test McGoff, Gamez and Walberer can attend flight school and obtain a pilot’s license.
Gamez and Walberner spent part of the summer at Purdue University in Indiana while McGoff headed to University of North Dakota’s satellite campus in Glendale, Arizona.
Each student earned a scholarship of at least $22,500 to attend their respective schools. Outside this program, Miller said it costs between $9,000-$15,000 to obtain a pilot’s license.
In order to receive their private pilot’s license, students needed to complete 45 hours of flight time.
McGoff, who is at Harrison High School and one of the standouts from the program, earned the coveted license July 27 and completed 52 hours of flight time.
“Linda will have around 85 credit hours after she completes the 12 [credits] she’s getting with this program,” Miller said. “She is on fire and would love to join the military as an officer.”
McGoff said on flight days, she woke up at 3 a.m. due to excitement for the slated schedule.
McGoff headed to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport where her certified flight instructor Victoria Johnson would accompany her and another flyer during their two-hour sessions.
At first, McGoff said her nerves affected her experience.
“It was overwhelming at first,” McGoff said. “I did not know anything in the airplane. When I flew the first time it was scary, but it was also amazing.”
Now, with 50-plus hours under her belt along with a license, McGoff said her confidence is “sky high.”
“As I gained more hours my confidence grew,” McGoff said. “I knew what I had to do and the more I trained, the less my CFI had to help me. At that point, I felt ready to be a fighter pilot.”
Miller said if students pass the colleges’ programs, it’s likely they’ll pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s exam.
“It’s almost a given and that’s because of how much more rigorous the college is versus the FAA,” Miller said. “[Colleges] want complete success because it reflects on them.”
The students’ success isn’t just through aviation. HSD2 JROTC students also succeed in the classroom.
This year the HSD2 JROTC program earned the Distinguished Unit Award for the third consecutive year. New this time around, the program also earned the “with merit” distinction, which denotes an inspection year.
According to a memo sent by Johnny McGonigal, Air Force JROTC director, the Distinguished Unit Award “recognizes the personal growth and accomplishments of the cadets, of the instructors as mentors and the support of the school and local community.”
“Inspectors look at our community service, they look at what students do after school - our leadership development requirements,” Miller said. “We have an academic bowl team, robotics team, rocketry team, drone team, drill team, color guard team, color guard events, flag details, where we present the colors or take the flag up or down at school. Students have to do their part and they have to do it very well.”
Miller also said each JROTC student is required to do 12 hours of community service.
Of the 87 students who finished the course, they completed 2,151 hours of community service, or nearly 25 hours per student.
Miller isn’t alone in helping HSD2 students achieve these honors. Senior Master Sgt. (Ret.) Pamela Condon helps prepare students for various aspects of JROTC. Condon enlisted in the Air Force 25 ½ years ago.
“Add three hours if you want to count how long it took to get my retiree card,” Condon said. “I knew I’d be very comfortable with JROTC and I’m happy to help out with these students.”
Condon started JROTC shortly after she retired in 2017. Condon earned two associates degrees, a bachelor’s, and a master’s in career technology education.
“For me [JROTC] was a gold mine because it was the best of both worlds,” Condon said. “This combined my Air Force world and education world. … [Flight school] is Col. Miller’s baby. He’s the pilot and he is the expert. My side of JROTC is leadership. I’m helping with leadership, characteristics, fundamentals of JROTC, which is shadowing the military, how to wear the uniform. I teach them about finances, learn if they want to go to college or a [technical] school, interviews, resumes, writing, etc.”
Condon also teaches students how to conduct themselves as adults and as mature and responsible high school students
Miller’s talents combined with Condon’s well-versed background combine to make a dynamic duo who mold students to become successful Air Force officers or distinguished citizens.
Condor explained, “Kids like structure and they like knowing what your expectations are. Right up front that’s what we do. We give them the structure and the expectations. When they don’t meet those expectations there are consequences to those expectations. Nine times out of 10 when they don’t meet those expectations, it’s the disappointment that we have in them that affects them more than being angry.”
Condon said the program’s numbers are down, due to COVID. The shut down in 2020 and lingering effects in 2021 stunted their opportunity to recruit new students to the program.
They expect to return to some normalcy this school year as coronavirus’ impact lessens.
However, since the class is on a volunteer basis, Condon and Miller are both confident they can continue to find students who want to participate and thrive.
“When you have three stellar kids saying this is what I did and this is how I got there, that seems to go further because it’s peer to peer versus teacher to students,” Condon said. “I’m sure 99 percent of students don’t know what a flight suit is. But when our [JROTC students] come back wearing flight suits, that’ll generate questions and that will motivate students. I’m confident in who and what we have here.”