JOINT BASE LANGLEY-EUSTIS, Va.

U.S. Air Force Airmen from Joint Base Langley-Eustis joined members from the U.S. Air Force Air Demonstration Squadron “Thunderbirds” to support the Denbigh High School Aviation Academy Career Day, May 18.

The event featured more than 30 representatives from the aviation industry, local military community and prospective universities.

The curriculum at the school is tailored to students who show an aptitude for aviation-related skill sets in four main tracks: aerospace engineering, flight operations, maintenance and security, safety and aviation.

“Careers in aviation and manufacturing are more than building or flying a plane,” said Dr. Aaron Smith, the academy program administrator. “There are so many jobs that are needed from the military to the commercial side of it. The purpose of this event was to help the students see how they could fit into this industry.”

Smith said he was elated by the turnout and the benefit to his students of informal networking and face-to-face career mentorship. He was particularly impressed by the service members in attendance, and their effect on his students.

“When the military comes in, it brings another element that is unlike any other. You guys are always professionals because you have to be battle ready in a heartbeat’s notice,” said Smith. “I tell my students ‘When it comes to your career, you have to be battle ready from day one.’”

U.S. Air Force Capt. Will Graeff, Thunderbirds Team Number 2 jet pilot, and three members from his crew spoke to more than 320 students about their experience in the Air Force and opportunities in the service for on-the-job technical training and higher education.

“I’m happy to see you here and happy to see you’re pursuing your passion in aviation,” said Graeff. “If you stick with and have that drive, then you’re going to succeed in life.”

The pilot shared his personal journey from initially studying medicine in college to joining the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps to gain experience for a career with the Central Intelligence Agency and ultimately finding his calling as a pilot. The main takeaway for the students was that there are multiple pathways to success and that sometimes a career journey is not a straight line.

“We need good people in all types of jobs, whether it’s in the Air Force or [other opportunities],” said Graeff. “It’s that passion that will make you do well in whatever you decide to do in life and to enjoy it.”

Smith said he hoped to continue multi-agency outreach opportunities as the school works to create a better Commonwealth with “college, career, and citizen ready” students.

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