I’ve had a deep connection with HMI for the past nine years. I was a Semester 14 student, Semester 26 apprentice, participated in two summer programs, and I am currently on the Alumni Advisory Council. A year ago I started on a very different career path than my HMIpeers-I commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the United States Air Force. I am now in training to become a Combat Systems Officer (CSO). CSO is a blanket term for a number of aircrew positions, including navigator. Generally, a CSO plans and runs the mission in an airplane while pilots physically fly the plane. After a nine week Basic Officer Training last year, I am now nearing the end of my yearlong CSO training. Soon I will receive my aircrew wings and be assigned to an aircraft at a new base. Throughout my time in this training I have regularly used skills I learned at HMI to become a better aviator and officer.
A constant piece of advice for Air Force aviators is to “grow a thick skin,” because every flight is followed by an extensive debriefing. On expeditions, the lengthiest debrief was after what felt like the longest hike of the expedition. I learned in these sessions that no matter how tired, cold, or hungry I was thorough feedback was incredibly important to becoming a better leader and outdoorsman. Most days in training I have a flight event, in an aircraft or simulated. Following each flight I debrief with my instructor on the flight and how I can be better. Tired, mentally drained, and hungry, I always remember the advice from HMI on how to treat feedback: like a gift from a grandparent, you nod and smile and say “thank you.” I find that I intuitively value these debriefings after experiencing how much feedback helped me grow at HMI.
The primary phase of my training focuses on navigating using charts and instruments in the plane to fly a specific route. During a recent simulator flight, my instructor paused the flight to demonstrate a technique he uses in reading the charts for final approach to landing. He keeps his thumb in the approximate location of the aircraft on the chart based on the navigation instruments. As an apprentice at HMI, I had specifically taught students to “thumb along” their topo maps during expedition travel to stay oriented. Despite flying at 15,000 feet and hundreds of miles an hour, the foundational navigation skills HMI taught me still applied.
At its core, the crew of an aircraft is a small team working to safely achieve a common goal. My time at HMI allowed me to hone the skills that make these teams successful. Learning communication, risk management, feedback, group dynamics, and endurance through physical and mental hardship at HMI prepared me to succeed as an aviator. My Air Force career will take me to new and different places and continue to challenge me physically and mentally. I am excited to continue to build on the foundation of skills that I laid during my time at HMI when facing these challenges.