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From AFE to UPT: One Airman’s Air Force journey

From AFE to UPT: One Airman’s Air Force journey

Senior Airman Regan Houser, an aircrew flight equipment technician assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard, inspects the condition of oxygen masks during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Coronet Cactus is an annual training event that takes members of the 149th FW, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, to Arizona to participate in a simulated deployment that acts as a capstone project for the current iteration of F-16 student pilots. The unfamiliar environment helps to provide more realistic combat experience for the students as various other members of the wing also support the students by maintaining and expediting mobility for the exercise. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)

From AFE to UPT: One Airman’s Air Force journey

Senior Airman Regan Houser and Senior Airman Gabriela Moreno, both aircrew flight equipment technicians assigned to the 149th Fighter Wing, Air National Guard, walk off of a flightline during Coronet Cactus, Feb. 24, 2020, at Luke Air Force Base, Arizona. Coronet Cactus is an annual training event that takes members of the 149th FW, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, to Arizona to participate in a simulated deployment that acts as a capstone project for the current iteration of F-16 student pilots. The unfamiliar environment helps to provide more realistic combat experience for the students as various other members of the wing also support the students by maintaining and expediting mobility for the exercise. (Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Derek Davis)

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO- LACKLAND, Texas --

“The journey of a thousand miles starts with a single step.” 

The well-known adage drove Senior Airman Regan Houser’s journey from aircrew flight equipment technician to securing a spot in undergraduate pilot training in December 2019.

What started as a childhood dream to fly after hearing stories from his grandfather, who served at the 149th Fighter Wing as an instructor pilot in the 1970s, became a reality in 2012 when he received his private pilot license after a few years of persistently pursuing his goal.

“The love of aviation is contagious,” said Houser, 149th FW aircrew flight equipment technician, reflecting on stories of his grandfather’s experience. “It really ropes you in—especially as a young kid. As you get older and start doing them, it’s still as cool as it sounded when I was five years old.”

Houser’s first real exposure to military life came after connecting with former 149th FW pilot Mike McCoy, who invited him to visit the unit after Houser told him his grandfather used to fly there.

“Everyone I met inside the AFE shop as well as around the Ops Group was on a mission to produce the best fighter pilots in the world,” said Houser, a Boerne, Texas native. “They were also professional and polite enough to show me around and answer all the questions that I had. There was a feeling in the building that seemed to say that there was important work going on here, and I wanted to be a part of that.”

That visit prompted Houser to join the Air National Guard in 2014 to get exposure to military life and the pilots he hoped to one day work alongside.

“I always felt that service to your country was important to do at some point in your life and in some way,” he said. “This ended up being a good way to do both things I knew I always wanted to do—serve my country and figure out if I wanted to fly for the military.”

Although it didn’t take long for Houser to decide to become a military pilot with his sights set on one day flying fighter aircraft, the process wasn’t easy. Despite advancing to earn his commercial pilot license in 2018 and flying on a regular basis, he faced challenges during the application process.

Since the 149th FW is home to instructor pilots who have years of experience and qualifications, the unit rarely provides direct commissioning opportunities to new pilots as it would take years for the Airman to return to the unit as an instructor. 

Similarly, other Air National Guard units that host boards for the selection process only commission one to two Airmen every couple of years on average, making for the chances of being selected very slim.

This reality didn’t deter Houser. He ended up applying for the active duty pathway in July 2019, competing against other hopefuls who weren’t from the Air Force Academy or Reserve Officer Training Corps, ultimately finding out in December 2019 that his patience and efforts paid off—he had been selected to go to undergraduate pilot training in 2020.

“Airman Houser is the type of guy that doesn't mind adversity and will make the best of a situation,” said Lt. Col. Kristian Thiele, 149th Operations Support Squadron commander. “He overcame the initial defeat of not getting hired by an ANG unit, if you could even call it that, and set his sights on active duty  That type of attitude and determination is exactly the type of leader, officer and warrior we need in the Air Force.”

Pending timeline uncertainties due to the coronavirus pandemic, Houser expressed enthusiasm for his upcoming training experience.

“I’m really excited for the work,” Houser said. “I know it’ll be a lot of late nights, a lot of reading and studying and drilling, and I know it’s tough. But anything worth doing is going to be hard.”

When reflecting on the process he has successfully navigated, Houser thought back to mentorship and advice he got from those at his unit and across the Air Force.

“Once piece of advice I got from Colonel Thiele was ‘never say no to an opportunity,’” he said. “If an opportunity comes up, be the first one to put your hand up. It makes you a more well-rounded Airman, puts you in front of people you don’t normally come across, and builds your reputation as a go-getter and a team player.”

Houser will be setting off to become an active duty pilot later this year and said he’s excited for what’s yet to come.

After all, his new job will have an office with quite the view.