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Maintainer-turned-fighter pilot puts new skills to the test

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, taxis an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission Jan. 13, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. To become a pilot, David went to school while working as a maintainer, through a deployment to Balad Airfield, Iraq and temporary duties where he was often gone for three weeks out of every month. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. David, a 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, taxis an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission Jan. 13, 2017, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. To become a pilot, David went to school while working as a maintainer, through a deployment to Balad Airfield, Iraq, and temporary duties where he was often gone for three weeks out of every month. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. David, 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, performs a walk-around on an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission Jan. 13, 2017 at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. David is at Bagram on his first deployment as a fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

Capt. David, a 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron pilot, performs a prefight inspection on an F-16 Fighting Falcon before a night mission Jan. 13, 2017, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. David is at Bagram Airfield on his first deployment as a fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Katherine Spessa)

BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)

When Capt. David was a child, his father would take him out to the flightline at Canon Air Force Base, New Mexico, and sit him in the cockpit of an F-111 Aardvark.

Looking up at his dad, David would say, “One day, I’m going to be a pilot.”

Fast forward a couple of decades later, “I guess I kept my word,” he said, standing in the 79th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan, where he serves as an F-16 Fighting Falcon fighter pilot.

The road has been a long one for David, who first enlisted in the Air Force in 2004. Following in his father’s footsteps, he became an F-16 avionics specialist.

“It’s always been my dream to be a pilot, it’s all I’ve ever wanted to do,” David said. “I just took a different route than most people do.”

That route included going to school while working as a maintainer, through a deployment to Balad Airfield, Iraq, and temporary duties where he was often gone for three weeks out of every month.

“I have the best wife in the world,” he said. “She was stubborn for me when I didn’t want to do it, she was always there pushing me, telling me that I could, telling me it’s going to be worth it. 'All the hard work, the sweat, the tears, one day it will all pay off and you’re going to be where you want to be.’”

David achieved his goal when he was accepted for Officer Training School and was subsequently selected for pilot training and the F-16 slot. He now flies the same airframe he was once a maintainer for.

“There’s always a giant support system behind anyone who gets to this point,” David said.

He gives the credit to his wife, children, and supervisors throughout his Air Force career, along with a little timing, luck and a lot of hard work.

After years of training, David was sent to his first operational assignment as a pilot, where he headed back out to the flightline as a pilot rather than a maintainer.

“Having that maintenance and operations background provides that extra piece to make the cogs fit a little bit better,” he said. “They’re not really all that different, to be honest. We all want the same thing, we all want to do the same thing, we’re all fighting in the same direction.”

The skills David learned as a maintainer give him increased credibility as a pilot.

“The guy’s knowledge of the airplane, is beyond some of our more seasoned pilots because he’s had his hands in some places we don’t even know exist inside an F-16,” said Maj. Joseph, the 79th EFS director of operations.

This deployment to Bagram Airfield will also be David’s first as a pilot.

“I always wanted to be the tip-of-the-spear kind of guy, the last link in the chain before taking care of bad guys,” he said. “The most rewarding part has been coming out here and being effective.”

When he’s not deployed, David follows in his father’s footsteps again, bringing his children to the flightline at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina.

“Seeing that pure joy and pride in their faces when I have them come out to the jet and I taxi up and hop out. There is no better feeling in the world, then seeing my kids’ faces light up,” he said.

Every generation of David’s family has served in the military since the Civil War. He is now the first member of his family to commission.

“I’ll probably be in the Air Force until they tell me to stop coming to work, whether I’m flying jets or not. It’s where I want to be,” David said.

(Editor's note: Last names were removed due to safety and security reasons.)

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