HomeNewsArticle Display

Swimming to soaring: Airman excels in water, air

Capt. Stephen Grace stands by his locker in the 79th FS locker room  Oct. 3, 2014, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Grace, an Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate, attributes his ongoing success in the Air Force to his competitiveness developed from his swimming career. Grace is a 79th Fighter Squadron fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Bass)

Capt. Stephen Grace stands by his locker in the 79th Fighter Squadron locker room Oct. 3, 2014, at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. Grace, an Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colo., graduate, attributes his ongoing success in the Air Force to his competitiveness developed from his swimming career. Grace is a 79th FS fighter pilot. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Jonathan Bass)

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C. (AFNS) -- (This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on AF.mil. These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

As he looked out of the water during a freestyle swim race, he dreamed of pushing beyond the surly bonds of earth.

Capt. Stephen Grace, a 79th Fighter Squadron fighter pilot, grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio, and since grade school he wanted to be an Air Force pilot.

Grace used the same competitive spirit he had in his swimming career and applied it to becoming a pilot.

"One great attribute of (Grace) is his initiative," said Capt. Wesley Tubman, a 79th FS fighter pilot. "It doesn't matter if we're talking about his swimming competitiveness, or innate flying abilities, there's no idea too small and no dream too big for him to set his sights on and excel at."

Grace's dream started with swimming. He learned to swim at 4-years-old, and by age seven he was swimming competitively.

"My older sister was a swimmer so, being a competitive person, I decided to try my hand out at it," Grace recalled.

Comparing competitive swimming to flying an F-16CM Fighting Falcon isn’t the same, there are similar aspects between the two.

"The dynamics of a fighter squadron and a sports team are what I have found to be most similar," Grace said. "While the specifics of what you are trying to achieve are obviously quite different, the mentality and interactions are not."

Camaraderie is a big part of both a fighter squadron and a swim team that naturally develops friendships through sharing tough experiences, Grace said.

For Grace, these experiences in high school helped shape personal goals. His high school swimming career was as goal oriented as his Air Force dream.

"I'd start every year with a time to beat," Grace said. "I'd spend the entire year training to beat that time."

That planning led to success in the pool for him.

"By my junior year (of high school) my goal was to get to the state finals," Grace said.

Swimming to the state finals wouldn't be easy, though. Grace would have to propel himself through the choppy waters of everyday life.

"Time management became a big issue," he said. "In order to make sure I was ready, I needed to swim before and after school, in addition to doing homework and having a social life."

Grace's innate abilities would serve him well not only in the pool, but in the sky.

"Grace has the potential to be a great leader with the qualities the Air Force desires," Tubman said. "His competitiveness is not based on distinguishing himself from his peers but in challenging himself to be a better pilot today than he was yesterday."

Grace's drive to excel at everything he does led him to the state finals his senior year and then the Air Force Academy where he swam for his first two years.

Seeing that his ultimate goal of flying was within reach, he put away the swimming goggles and swapped them for aviators.

"I received my private pilot's license my junior year of college," Grace said. "Then in my senior year I got my instrument rating."

Grace was awarded his spot in flight school his junior year at the academy. After graduation, Grace attended flight school at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.

"I started pilot training January of 2011," Grace said. "The first six weeks were all academic training."

For Grace, academics was an area in which he easily glided.

"He is a humble guy by nature," Tubman said. "But his work and character speak for itself."

After the academic portion, pilots then spend approximately five months flying the T-6 Texan.

"That was broken into three different phases," Grace said. "There's contact; which is just basic flying, then instruments; learning how to fly in weather, then formation; learning how to fly in formations."

After Grace conquered the T-6, the next challenge he took hold of was the T-38 Talon. This transition was more turbulent for him.

"I stumbled early on in T-38 training," Grace said. "I got some low checkride scores, but fortunately was able to turn it around as training progressed."

Grace's ability to adapt and overcome was crucial to his success in flight school. His desire to exhibit the Air Force core values added to his success.

"(Grace) doesn't just exemplify core values, he embodies them," Tubman added. "Any of his closest friends would say that he is a simple man, that his ability is founded on a core of genuine altruism, trustworthiness, and passion for life."

After soaring in the T-38, the day finally came where he would be told what aircraft he would be assigned to fly.

Grace wanted to fly the F-16.

"I loved that single-seat fighter mentality," Grace said. "I loved that it's just you versus your opponent."

He was given that chance; he got the F-16, one of the Air Force's premiere single-seat fighters. Grace's leadership was evident from the first day.

"Some say leaders are born," Tubman said. "Others say leaders are made; both would be accurate of him."

Grace's drive to succeed led him to success in the water and in the air. His dream of becoming an Air Force pilot was met and exceeded, but his goals have expanded to becoming not only the best pilot he can be, but the best Airman as well.


Facebook Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Jumping from a plane becomes a big step toward friendship. 301 soldiers and airmen from @USArmyReserve, @usairforce, and…
Explosive Disposal Ordnance (EOD) Airmen are often assigned to some of the most dangerous missions and perform tact… https://t.co/xYc9Ip5psn
Start this year by supporting your #Airmen in their pursuit of #resiliency. Learn about common triggers of invisibl… https://t.co/6gJSfJKvcK
RT @OHNationalGuard: The @180thFW hosted members of the Nigerian Air Force recently Officers visited the 180FW in search of #bestpractice
RT @HiAirGuard: Airmen from 154th Security Forces Squadron became first responders during a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear…
RT @US_SOCEUR: U.S. #airmen assigned to the 352d Special Operations Wing perform maintenance on a CV-22B #Osprey aircraft in Szolnok, #Hung
RT @HQ_AFMC: The @AFResearchLab s X-60A program achieved a key developmental #milestone with the completion of integrated vehicle propulsio…
RT @DeptofDefense: If you want to get there as fast as possible, don’t stop for gas. ⛽ That’s why the @usairforce relies on airmen like Tec…
RT @DeptofDefense: Press ▶️ to learn more about @USAFCENT, the command that provides air & space warfighting capabilities to help defeat v…
Airmen with the Puerto Rico Air National Guard provide support at the “tent cities” to support Task Force South and… https://t.co/zg2yT0LqpS
Even the most advanced aircraft in history requires extensive maintenance performed by Airmen on the ground to kee… https://t.co/Kpv8JlzYIc
RT @AirMobilityCmd: Throwback Thursday and #TankerThirstThursday are the same game. Throwing it back to last month when a KC-135 Stratotank…
If you thought the C-5M Super Galaxy was cool before, wait until you hear @RichardHammond describe it and its capab… https://t.co/jbYbdyHx5q
Air National Guardsmen from @105AW are on the ground in Puerto Rico with their counterpart, @PRNationalGuard, provi… https://t.co/ZwzhCEpWY4
RT @HAFB: Join us for the Hill Air Force Base 80th Anniversary Celebration from 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Jan. 18 at the Hill Aerospace Museum! A nu…
Ranges are crucial to the training and readiness of our warfighters. Get an inside look at how they prepare to figh… https://t.co/i5CnbpBGAw
.@cmsaf18 and his wingman, Senior Enlisted Advisor to Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Chief Master Sergeant… https://t.co/UD69jCjHPz
#AirForce is always looking for ways to improve processes and patient health care is no different. @JBSA_Official h… https://t.co/ysEFjoXYCE
RT @USAF_ACC: You know what day it is. #WarthogWednesday! 🐗👏 #DYK the weapon on the #A10Thunderbolt II is a 30 millimeter GAU-8 and is des…
RT @SpaceForceDoD: Earlier today, @SpaceForceCSO Gen. John W. Raymond became the first ever Chief of Space Operations. @VP Vice President M…