Maintenance Airman, Civilian Pilot Earns Military Wings

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Ryan Mancuso
  • 149th Fighter Wing

An Airman assigned to the Air National Guard’s 149th Fighter Wing received word recently that she had been accepted into the Army’s Aviation Rotary Wing program as a warrant officer, making her dream of flying military aircraft an actuality.

“I look at those airplanes and I think ‘wow, I’m really here,” said Senior Airman Amanda Alderete, 149th Fighter Wing maintenance management production analyst, referring to the F-16 Fighting Falcons she maintains daily. “This is my life. This is amazing.”

The San Antonio native will never forget her first time walking through the F-16 hangar. It was 2020, and Alderete had just transferred from the Air Force Reserve to the Air National Guard.

“There’s nothing like seeing the fleet out there, and the jets take off,” Alderete said. “You realize how big of a mission this is, and you’re this small little piece serving something bigger than yourself.”

This newfound daily reality inspired her to get her private pilot’s license with hopes of eventually becoming a military pilot. 

The seeds of Alderete’s pilot dreams began when she was given a rare opportunity to attend the Air Force’s Squadron Officer School as part of a civilian internship program before she enlisted into the Air Force.

“I never had thoughts of joining the military until I got into this program and got to work hand-in-hand with active-duty military and going to Squadron Officer School,” Alderete said. “I was in a room with pilots and (physician assistants) and intel, and it was just an amazing experience.”

After enlisting in 2018 and eventually transferring to the 149th FW to work among fighter jets, Alderete began to dream of taking to the skies herself. With her mentor’s advice of, “if you’re going to fail, fail quickly,” in mind, she walked into a civilian flight school and asked how much lessons cost. Since that day in March of 2020, she has been dedicating every possible resource to her goal of flying for an airline and traveling the world.

“I’m terrified that I’m going to get into a situation where I wait too long,” Alderete said. She explained that flying requires a lot of muscle memory and is something that you must continuously practice in order to remain proficient. It is also costly. Alderete confessed that many pilots are “weeded out” during this challenging process, but can’t imagine doing anything else.

Through persistence and networking she was able to get a scholarship with Women in Aviation, an organization dedicated to helping women realize their aviation dreams.

She attended a conference about women in the aviation industry and the associated career opportunities available to them. The conference was a glimpse of what her reality could be and a chance to meet with several commercial airlines and the Air Force.

Alderete credits her success to her team. When she received the opportunity to fill a last-minute Airman Leadership School seat at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, several people across the wing pulled together all the necessary paperwork and funding to get her there.

“To have a team that supports you and cares about you enough to go above and beyond, you can’t put a price tag on that,” she said. “I have been given a chance to make a better future for my family and self.”

Alderete made the most of the opportunity and earned several awards during her time in Florida. Through connections made from various aviation organizations, she found a flight instructor in Panama City and drove an hour each way after work to fly. Her class unanimously voted to award her the John L. Levitow Award, and the First Sergeant Council awarded her the Commandant Leadership Award based on peer and commandant recommendations. She also received the First Wings Award scholarship from the Amelia Earhart Memorial Scholarship Fund, affording her the opportunity to continue pursuing pilot certifications.

“Airmen like (Alderete) have a drive to succeed that only needs encouragement and gas to throw on their fire,” said Master Sgt. Adam Storer, Alderete’s maintenance management analysis section supervisor. “I love that. Every time we can lift our people up, it makes us better equipped to lift the next Airman. It’s very exciting to be a part of those moments,” he added.

Alderete will now enlist into the Army as a warrant officer to become a Blackhawk helicopter pilot.

“I’m actually going to leave the nice, cushy, Air Force job with wonderful benefits to follow my path, my passion, which is flying,” she said.

Alderete’s experience illustrates the importance of following through on one’s goals, and this steadfast determination is not lost on her supervision.

“She acquires a target and pursues it to mission success,” said Storer. “Hands down, it is that passion that will continue to benefit her, the state of Texas, and the USAF.”