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B-Course Series: They all graduate!

KINGSLEY FIELD, Ore. -- In some respects Class 16-ABK ended like it started--with a flurry of activity.

Maybe the best indicator of that is the fact that nearly all six graduates of this class graduated on a different day. That is unusual and it reflects a number of things: the fast pace of fighter pilot training in general, the exceptionally high need for trained pilots in the active Air Force, and the fact that these students--to one degree or another--put their personal lives on hold to successfully navigate this training. All six graduated, earning the coveted Eagle Driver patch over the last seven months.

Upon being asked to reflect on that 1st Lt. Brock Mcgehee said "seven months .... to be honest it's really been 14 years."

That may be the untold story of becoming an Eagle Drive; while we see these students arrive, their training began long ago.

There is an unofficial syllabus on just getting to F-15C pilot training.  For many pilots it begins with admission to the U.S. Air Force Academy which can increase their chances of getting into the cockpit of a fighter aircraft, because in the past the academy had a larger share of pilot accessions.

A quick visit to the Air Force Academy admissions website details extensive preparation beginning in grade six.

For Air National Guard accessions, they should have a private pilot's license in hand while competing against as many as 100 other applicants. It can be difficult to distinguish oneself, and for that reason many who pursue this training opt for the academy.

Moving past these hurdles is good training, Mcgehee says it's a refining process and at each step a person grows, one hopes in proportion to the next challenge.

At Kingsley Field the challenge can be summed up as a mountain of work. Students arrive here and receive a load of manuals that would stack three feet high. In them are all the numerous systems that comprise the jet and the rules for use of the airspace and the airfield. These students know how to absorb information quickly, but here they synthesize it and keep it ready for any eventuality--especially while flying.

As it turns out, each of the six student pilots of class 16-ABK rose to the challenge and they are headed to either RAF Lakenheath, United Kingdom or to Kadena Air Base, Japan. 1st Lt. Scott McGowen, the lone Air National Guard pilot, will return to Barnes Air National Guard Base, Massachusetts.

Upon his graduation Capt. Alex Frank is headed to Kadena Air Base but that will follow SERE training for both he and 1st Lt. Garrett Womack. Of the last seven months at Kingsley Frank says,
"it was fun... but I'm glad it's over."

"It doesn't really get any easier, the last ride is the hardest one," said Maj. Ryan Reeves, Class 16-ABK flight lead. "There's not really much room for a mistake; I'm happy for those guys and I think they'll do well."

Now that they wear the Eagle Driver patch, the attitude toward them shifts.  They are no longer students, they are now part of the brotherhood.

"The feedback that we usually get is that we have a high standard here and we are proud of the product we send out to the combat units," said Reeves.

In the meantime, the schoolhouse has more new students than at any point in its history. Many more will arrive to see if their preparation until now is adequate for the job that lies ahead. One thing is for sure, with the increasing demand for well-trained pilots, this schoolhouse will remain busy shepherding students just like this class through the toughest training in the Air Force.