As a child, I ran around the house with my digital camera barefoot to take pictures of my three dogs – the best models in the family.
While holding the shutter button, I would wait for the dogs to look at the camera and fill my memory card with their happy faces. I spent hours staring at the screen on the back of the camera scrolling through the art I had created.
Years later, when I walked into the Air Force recruiting office in Gilbert, Arizona, I never imagined that my childhood fascination with photography was something I could do for my country. .
Three years later, I’m a photojournalist flying high in the Oklahoma skies and telling the story of Air Force pilots in training.
In October 2018, I arrived at Technical School in Fort George G. Meade, Maryland. For the first time, I wrapped my hands around a professional camera. It was a Nikon with interchangeable lenses. He felt enduring, complex, and expensive.
I followed five months of schooling surrounded by future storytellers from the Ministry of Defense. We have learned to write, take photos, produce digital graphics, and communicate with strategic intent using social media and websites.
About halfway through training I received orders for the 71st Flight Training Wing at Vance Air Force Base. My new supervisor told me that I would be taking photos and videos from the back seat of a plane used to train the best pilots in the world.
The first time I crawled in the backseat of a T-6A Texan II; it hit me – I was going to fly. I started to shake as the adrenaline rushed up and the tires left the ground.
We were in the air. Looking to the left, I saw Vance AFB disappear in the distance, until I could no longer make out the control tower.
My gaze inevitably wandered to the ground where I scanned the farm fields of the Oklahoma Panhandle. The scene reminded me of a video game where the pixels weren’t fully rendered. They were just squares of different shades of green.
Known as the family daredevil, I naively thought I could handle the twists, turns, loops and rolls of a T-6A training ride. I was wrong.
I started to photograph the other plane we were following. Already disoriented by the aerobatics in the small plane, looking through the viewfinder made me even more nauseous.
We pulled tight turns where the centrifugal force was like two or three times the pull of gravity on my body. Sometimes it was like five times. I finally lost my lunch in an air sickness bag.
Although I didn’t have many photos, I realized at this point what I needed to prepare for. Being a flying photographer means eating healthy food, training regularly and regularly in flight to stay acclimated to the rigors of the cockpit.
I have now flown in the three planes used at Vance AFB. The T-6A Texan II, which is the first aircraft flown by every student pilot at Vance.
The T-38C Talon, which prepares pilots to fly fighter jets or bombers, and the T-1A Jayhawk, used by students preparing for airlift or tanker planes.
I never imagined that my childhood hobby of trying to capture my puppies’ personalities would lead me to the backseat of an airplane telling the Air Force story.
And the chapter of that story I’m telling right now is how Team Vance delivers the world’s greatest aviators – over 35,000 since 1941.