AFDW honors local high school student, motivates young leaders

  • Published
  • By Abigail Meyer
  • Air Force District Washington

The feeling of your hand outside the window of a moving car feels a little different when it’s out the door of a UH-1N Huey. The sensation of air blowing through your fingers as you bank over the tidal basin of Washington, D.C. is one not many people get to experience, and it’s a feeling Caleb Smith is not likely to forget any time soon.

The day started out routine for Smith. As an ROTC cadet, he served on the color guard for an assembly at his school, Charles H. Flowers High School. Smith is the nation’s youngest pilot to earn a private glider pilot license and is continuing to pursue his private pilot license.

Maj. Gen. Joel Jackson, Air Force District of Washington commander, Command Chief Master Sgt. Leon Calloway, AFDW command chief, and Capt. Andre Young, UH-1N pilot, spoke to a group of more than 100 JROTC and STEM students from the high school about Air Force opportunities, and the need for pilots.

“Today’s event was all about diversity in our Air Force and trying to inspire the next generation of youth to show them the Air Force is something they can do,” Jackson said. “Not only can they do it, [but] we need them to do it. We need a diverse Air Force, we need great Airmen, great aviators, great pilots, and great navigators. [Charles H.] Flowers High School has some of those folks that we really want to fly in the Air Force.”

Impressing upon the group the importance of leadership, Jackson recognized the young cadet’s drive, academic achievements, passion for aviation and his accomplishments as a student leader. Following this recognition, Jackson surprised Smith by offering him a flight on a 1st Helicopter Squadron Huey, assigned to Joint Base Andrews.

“I hear you are an outstanding young man, you work hard, work toward a goal once you set it, but you care about those who are around you,” Jackson said to Smith during the assembly. “You’re a great teammate, family man and don’t lose sight about what’s important.”

“Did you see the helicopter out there?” Jackson continued. “How would you like to go for a ride on that helicopter out there?”

Surprised, Smith accepted the offer. After a safety brief, Smith and Jackson were airborne to see the capital’s monuments from a different perspective.

“I really had no idea until I got pulled up there, and I was just baffled. I had no idea what to say. I’m kind of in shock right now,” Smith said. “The helicopter ride was amazing. I really loved everything.”

Smith hopes his fellow classmates can see that setting goals and achieving them is attainable for anyone.

“Hopefully I can influence others in the way [to show] that people like me can do what I’m doing ⁠— be successful,” Smith said.

The day honored and recognized one student for his accomplishments, but hopefully motivated and inspired all the young leaders, and showed them that if they aim for something, they can attain it.

For Smith, he loved his experience and will continue to set his sights on the clouds.