My first class graduated from T-37s on Thursday. It was bittersweet. There were good students, not so good students, colorful personalities, different backgrounds, different dreams. When a class completes T-37s, their second phase of pilot training, they have a track select, in which they divide into fighter/bomber, tanker/transport, helicopter, and C-130 tracks. It is a very tense night where each student stands up before a room of their peers, instructors past and future, family, and whoever else wants to come. They are roasted, ribbed and teased about all of the funny things they did or said while with their classmates. There are of course PC limits to this roast these days. At the end of their teasing, the student turns toward the screen to face their fate, one that will effect the rest to their career, which these days is at a 10 year minimum. I remember that day well, and the gigantic lump I had in the pit of my stomach. I waited for the yell of the crowd before I turned around, hoping it would in some way indicate what I had recieved. In every track select, there are suprises, both to the students and the instructors. Some were better leaders behind the scenes than instructors know. Another might have better academic grades. All of that, plus flying skill, other tests on emergency procedures go into a student's ranking in order to determine what they will fly next.
I am jealous of my students. They get to move on, no matter what it is they are moving on to, and I have to remain here. Of course I am most jealous of the fighter/bomber students, who get to go on to the T-38. I miss flying the T-38 everyday. It is difficult to go from afterburner and a glass cockpit back to one of the oldest aircraft in the Air Force inventory that can barely fly single engine. But most of all they have the chance to go on to bigger and better things, something I have to wait another two and a half years. Chances are one of my students will be back to my squadron someday to instruct as well, but in six months, when they are done with their final phase of pilot training, it will be hard to watch them get their next assignments, going on to what I have always dreamed of being, a fighter pilot.