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Airman achieves dream to fly 'into the wild blue yonder'

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Capt. Terry Tyree Jr. adjusts the controls in a T-1A Jayhawk before a flight.  He earned his third aeronautical rating when he graduated from specialized undergraduate pilot training here recently.  He will learn to fly KC-10 Extenders at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis Lloyd)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Capt. Terry Tyree Jr. adjusts the controls in a T-1A Jayhawk before a flight. He earned his third aeronautical rating when he graduated from specialized undergraduate pilot training here recently. He will learn to fly KC-10 Extenders at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis Lloyd)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Capt. Stephen Miller (left) reviews aircraft maintenance records with Capt. Terry Tyree Jr. before a flight here.  Captain Tyree earned his third aeronautical rating when he graduated from specialized undergraduate pilot training recently.  He will learn to fly KC-10 Extenders at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J.  Captain Miller was Captain Tyree's flight commander during pilot training.  Captain Miller is assigned to the 48th Flying Training Squadron.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis Lloyd)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- Capt. Stephen Miller (left) reviews aircraft maintenance records with Capt. Terry Tyree Jr. before a flight here. Captain Tyree earned his third aeronautical rating when he graduated from specialized undergraduate pilot training recently. He will learn to fly KC-10 Extenders at McGuire Air Force Base, N.J. Captain Miller was Captain Tyree's flight commander during pilot training. Captain Miller is assigned to the 48th Flying Training Squadron. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Alexis Lloyd)

COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. (AFPN) -- The anticipation shines in his eyes. The smile on his face is genuine and easy. His demeanor exudes an infectious energy.

Capt. Terry Tyree Jr. gets to fly today.

It has taken him 14 years, three technical schools and a positive attitude to achieve his dream of becoming an Air Force pilot.

He enlisted in the Air Force in 1990 and left his hometown of Washington, D.C., for six weeks of Basic Military Training at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas.

“Before I enlisted, I was working at a four-star restaurant, but I was unhappy with the way my career was going,” Captain Tyree said.

His father, who was in the Air Force for 12 years, took him aside and said, “Junior, you should think about the military.”

Captain Tyree came into the military without a guaranteed Air Force specialty.

“I was fortunate to get an enlisted aviator job as an airborne surveillance technician on the E-3 (Sentry airborne warning and control system),” he said.

The flying bug first bit him when a surveillance officer with a private pilot’s license took Captain Tyree for a flight over the Grand Canyon.

“That was the first time I thought to myself, ‘I want to be a pilot in the military,’” he said.

His mentor and supervisor, now Master Sgt. Alex Romo, helped Captain Tyree begin the groundwork to become a pilot. Sergeant Romo told him if he ever wanted to earn his wings, he needed to start taking college classes, earn his Community College of the Air Force degree and attain his private pilot’s license.

He listened to his supervisor; he earned his CCAF in space operations technology and received his private pilot’s license in 1993.

After attending a briefing about commissioning opportunities, Sergeant Romo helped Captain Tyree submit a package for the Scholarships for Outstanding Airmen to ROTC program.

A few weeks after Captain Tyree received a line number for staff sergeant, a general arrived at Tinker AFB, Okla., to congratulate him on being awarded a SOAR scholarship.

Captain Tyree was accepted to the Air Force ROTC program at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona, Fla., in 1996.

“I was a little scared to separate from the Air Force and go to college,” he said. “I didn’t have a guaranteed paycheck, but I thought it would be worth the risk.

“The best part of college was meeting my lovely wife, Karin,” Captain Tyree said. “As soon as I met her, I knew she was the one.”

While in Daytona, his love for flying also deepened. He earned a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical science and an Air Force commission May 1999; however, an age limitation made Captain Tyree ineligible for pilot training. Instead, he entered navigator training.

While at his technical school, the pilot age limitation was raised to 30. The inability to stop navigator training and a service commitment of two and a half years prevented Captain Tyree from entering pilot training.

In 2000, Captain Tyree and his wife moved to Germany where he flew missions as a C-130 Hercules navigator.

“I was content to be the best (navigator) I could be, but it was my wife who pushed me to apply for a pilot training age waiver,” he said.

After the waiver was approved by the Air Force chief of staff, Captain Tyree competed against other officers for a pilot training slot.

Captain Tyree was selected to attend specialized undergraduate pilot training here after 13 years of waiting.

He was a distinguished graduate and was awarded the Air Education and Training Command Commander’s Trophy for being one of the most outstanding students in his class.

“Pilot training was the hardest training I’ve ever received in the Air Force,” Captain Tyree said.

“My wife kept me going and helped me out of bed in the mornings when I felt too tired,” Captain Tyree said. “She is my backbone, my savior. She helped me find the motivation every day to continue.”

Unbeknownst to Captain Tyree, he had a surprise visitor in the audience when he graduated from pilot training -- Sergeant Romo.

“I had no idea (he was) going to be there,” Captain Tyree said. “It was surreal to have my mentor there, who put me on the right track for success. Fourteen years later, I owe him a lot for what he did for me.”

“I have never met anyone in my life with so much drive, determination, self-discipline and focus,” Sergeant Romo said of the captain. “He is the epitome of what today’s and tomorrow’s Airmen should strive to be.”

The next step in the Tyree’s Air Force journey includes a move to McGuire AFB, N.J., where he will learn to fly KC-10 Extenders.

He is also training to become a father. His wife Karin is eight months pregnant.

“In five years, I see us in a nice home, raising a happy family, serving in the Air Force and flying missions in KC-10s,” Captain Tyree said.

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