Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Wrong number, Major changes

by Tech. Sgt. Jeff Walston
917th Wing Public Affairs Office

6/2/2009 - Barksdale, AFB, LA -- Sidetracked by a wrong number and subsequent job offer, the lifelong dream of flying the A-10 Thunderbolt is finally back on track for Maj. Maury Kent, 917th Wing Operations Support Flight, wing weapons officer.

Maury Kent was actually trying to call the 47th Fighter Squadron at Barksdale Air Force Base, La., looking for a job in 1999, when he got the 93rd Bomb Squadron. He was hired over the phone. Now, 10 years later, he is making the move from the B-52 Stratofortress of the 93rd BS to the 47th FS and the A-10 Thunderbolt.

An aging picture of himself as a 9-year-old sitting in the cockpit assisting a pilot run a preflight checklist stands as a reminder to Maj. Kent of the day he got hooked on flying.

But, it would take almost another decade and graduating from Bayshore High in Bradenton, Fla., in 1990 before Maj. Kent would begin to realize his dream.

"I remember sitting on the couch watching the first Gulf war kick off - I wanted a role in it," said Maj. Kent. "Flying wasn't an option because I couldn't afford college.

"A recruiter told me the Air Force would pay for college, commission me, and send me to pilot training," the Major said. "I joined in 1991."

Airman Kent ended up a crew chief on F-16s supporting the U.S. Air Force Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev.

"I don't think my recruiter ever worked on the flightline at Nellis ... 10-12 hours a day in the desert is not conducive for a successful college education," Maj. Kent said.

Not losing any time on the flying dream, Airman Kent got his private pilot's license while on active duty at Nellis.

"I was a dedicated crew chief as a Senior Airman, but separated from the Air Force so I could pursue my degree and more flying," said Maj. Kent. "After separating, I flew with the Civil Air Patrol in Bradenton, while I pursued more flying certificates."

According to Maj. Kent, he attended college "all over the place" while pursuing his degree.

But then, there were other things to consider. Maj. Kent met Cheryl, his wife of 17 years, while in high school. They were married shortly after graduating.

"I had a family and a career and went to college at night. Finally, in an effort to speed up the completion of my degree, I literally sold everything and went to Embry Riddle in Daytona Beach for a degree in Professional Aeronautics. I completed the degree in 2000." Maj. Kent said. "While I was in-processing there, I talked to a recruited who told me the Air Force raised the age for pilot training ... after some quick mental math I figured out if I hurried, I might make it.

"Excitedly I told my wife, what I learned ... she promptly reminded me that I wasn't happy with the active duty Air Force when I left," he said. "So we compromised with looking for a Reserve squadron."

That's when the dream of flying the A-10 went a little off course.

"I started cold calling every unit in within 1,000 miles of Bradenton - no luck. Nobody was prepared for a quick hire," he said. "I began to call outside of 1,000 miles.

"I found what I thought was a number to the 47th FS. But, I actually contacted the 93rd BS. I talked to a Maj. Scott Forrest. He explained that the 47th FS was a training unit, but the 93rd BS was hiring," Maj. Kent said. "After a quick conversation, he hired me on over the phone."

Due to the needs of the Air Force Reserve Command, Maury Kent was commissioned in June 2000 and started pilot training just three months before the age deadline.

"Undergraduate Pilot Training went well and I received recommendations to fly fighters. But, as a Reservist, you normally return to the unit that hired you - regardless of your performance at UPT. This is different for the active duty, which competes for their aircraft of choice." said Maj. Kent. "The 93rd BS was interested in keeping me since they did the work of hiring and training me - so I stayed."

Maj. Kent started B-52 training in Oct 2001, and took his first flight in Jan 2002.

Over the years with the 93rd BS, Maj. Kent has worn several hats. He has been a Squadron Weapons Officer, an Instructor Aircraft Commander, and Evaluator Pilot. But, then there's that dream.

"I have always wanted to fly the A-10. It is an incredibly jet - and keeps getting better," said Maj. Kent. "Both the B-52 and A-10 jets have been considered the underdogs of the Air Force at some point, and both jets often outperform the new 'high-tech' jets in the inventory. I just like the type of flying they accomplished in the A-10."

Transferring from one squadron to another is not just one man's decision. Many aspects come into play.

"No decision comes with a 100% guarantee. Every once in a while you get an opportunity to decide something that feels darn near perfect. Moving Maury to fighters was one of those decisions," said Col. Bob Nordberg, 917th Operations Group commander. "Based on the quality of his work in the B-52, I have no doubt he will do great things in the A-10."

Recent Combat Air Forces Restructuring opened doors for Maj. Kent to make the move from the 93rd BS to the 47th FS. It wasn't a decision made lightly. He involved his wife and his 12-year-old son Chase, and 7-year-old daughter Kirstie.

"Cheryl and my children support me 100 percent - no hesitations. Cheryl keeps my feet on the ground and in every way makes my career possible, "said Maj. Kent. "I would not be where I am today without her.

Maj. Kent will begin training at Randolph AFB, Texas, in June 2009, to re-qualify in the T-38, and attend IFF (Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals). He will complete his A-10 training at Davis-Monthan AFB, Ariz., and then return to Barksdale and the 47th FS.

As he did as a 9-year-old boy sitting in that cockpit, Maj Kent has set goals for his new role as an A-10 pilot.

"I am going to work towards becoming an outstanding A-10 pilot and the wingman other A-10 pilots want in combat," Maj. Kent said. "As for the Air Force, I hope to be lucky enough to hold a command some day. If that doesn't happen, I'll be satisfied serving in any capacity as an A-10 pilot."

There are many differences between being part of an aircrew and being a single pilot in the cockpit of a fighter, and there are challenges to overcome in the transition from one to the other. According to Maj. Kent, he is up for that challenge.

"Primarily the difference between (these two) airframes is the method of employment, number and type of ordnance. The differences in aircrews are directly related to how they employ the jets. The A-10 pilot must maintain high situational awareness (SA) in a single-seat jet - multi-tasking on a very high level. He is the only guy flying, fighting, and defending in combat," Maj. Kent said. "A B-52 aircrew must stitch together SA from multiple crewmembers from one voice channel in the jet. Each crewmember onboard has a piece of the puzzle.

"You train to each environment. For instance, a B-52 crewmember must endure physiological fatigue during long missions and archaic systems. Whereas, an A-10 pilot has shorter duration, but more intense missions, in a jet that has more modern systems to assist the pilot in combat," he said.

It is not often pilots or aircrew members in Reserve units transfer between airframes in mid-career. But, for Maj. Kent, the decision has been made, goals have been set and another phase of an Air Force Reserve career has begun.

"It's a win-win deal where the Air Force gains a future leader with a broader experience base, and Maury fulfills his life-long dream," Colonel Nordberg said. "I just hope the 47th is ready for him. He wasn't given his "Octane" call sign without cause."

As the page turns on another chapter in his Air Force career, Maj. Kent moves forward to the next adventure with great expectations.

"Professionally, becoming an A-10 pilot will open more doors for me in the future. Personally, flying the A-10 will satisfy one of my biggest goals in life," Maj. Kent said. "I am incredibly fortunate to have this opportunity."

Maj. Maury Kent, 917th Wing Operations Support Flight, wing weapons officer, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, poses in front of a B-52 Stratofortress on the ramp with his wife Cheryl at Barksdale AFB, December 6, 2008. Maj. Kent recently made a move from the 93rd Bomb Squadron to the 47th Fighter Squadron. After training on the A-10 Thunderbolt II, Maj. Kent will return the here as a fighter pilot for the 47th FS. (Courtesy photo)


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