Travis Foss–UVU Aviation Student, NIFA Flight Team member and part-time employee–recently took the enlisted oath up at Salt Lake City International Airport. Travis has been selected for a pilot slot for the Utah Air National Guard. He was sworn in by Russell Hopkinson, UVU Aviation Safety Officer and retired Lt. Colonel for the U.S. Air Force. Travis will be flying a KC-135, which is similar to the KC-10 Russ flew during his Air Force tenure, so in a way it’s a “passing of the baton.”
The pilot slot is very competitive and Travis is to be commended for his hard work and perseverance.
Travis was quite humble about this achievement, recognizing there are lots of aviation students working hard and pursuing various paths to achieve their dreams, but he agreed share with us his experience in the hope of encouraging other students. Here is a synopsis of his story:
“I’m so excited!” was the first thing Travis said. He explained he’s been working towards this opportunity for over two years, when he first contacted the Guard to request information on how to become a pilot for them. He corresponded with them via email and tried to arrange a visit, but his schedule never seemed to sync with a Saturday when they weren’t doing drills.
After about 6 months, Travis began considering other options as well. He met with an officer with the Navy and learned he needed to take military tests for Navy. He already had the military testing materials, so he started preparing for the Navy’s test. He did well on that test, but wasn’t satisfied with his scores. While he was waiting to retake that test, Travis studied for the Guard. During this time he contacted BYU ROTC Air Force and decided to take their test. Again his scores were good, but he wanted better, which meant more waiting.
In the meantime Travis distracted himself by working hard with his flight training. Still, “my dream was to fly for the Guard. I’ve always liked Boeing 707s and the Guard’s KC 135 is a Boeing 707.” Travis remained focused on school, but, keeping his dream in mind, he also started looking at other options.
Travis heard about UVU’s flight team and decided to join. He competed and got a pilot slot on the team. He went with the team to the NIFA competition in Ohio where he “had a great experience overall at the competition, meeting other students and making friends.” While in Ohio, Travis was talking to Russ Hopkinson and a few others and kept going back to his dream of flying for the Guard.
After returning from Ohio, Travis saw he had a few emails from the Guard, but they didn’t appear to be directed to him. He wasn’t quite sure why they came to him and didn’t think too much of it because it didn’t appear the Guard was actually hiring at that time.
About a week later, Travis got a phone call from a captain. The captain asked Travis if he was still interested in flying for the Guard. Of course he was.
“That never happens!” says Travis. It turns out all those emails weren’t in vain. “He told me they were just looking for applicants when he came across our previous correspondence and thought he should give me a call.”
“I answered in the affirmative. ‘What do I need to do?’ He said they were hiring, he’d send me an information packet, and he listed the items he needed for the application process (this was on Friday – he wanted the packet on Tuesday). He needed AFOQT scores, TBAS scores—I hadn’t even taken TBAS yet—a cover letter, resume, letters of recommendation and other docs. Oh, and Monday was holiday. And I needed to know where I could take the TBAS and still get the scores to SLC by Tuesday.”
Travis started calling around and eventually called BYU ROTC. “Luckily they had it (the TBAS) and they were nice enough to let me come in Tuesday morning and take the test (without any prep). I thought, ‘What do I have to lose? This is an opportunity to apply. There’s no looking back.’”
Travis took the test, they posted the scores online, he drove back to airport to get the letters of recommendation, and then drove to SLC to drop off his packet. While he was in SLC, Travis got to meet some of the pilots. “It was so cool! The best thing about driving up there was getting to meet them and let them see my face and let them get to know me.”
Travis got a phone call a week later to set up an interview. “I couldn’t believe it. Having an interview is a great opportunity! I put on my suit and tie and drove up to SLC for my interview and while I was there I kept thinking to myself ‘I’m interviewing against individuals just as qualified or more qualified than I am.’ I kept thinking how intimidating that is but then I decided I should just be myself and be as professional as I can. My interview took place at a very long table with 8 or 9 people facing me. Each person asked me at least one question. They were all in uniform—flight suits—and it was pretty intense. At the very beginning I was really nervous, but after a few minutes I started to feel collected and calm and decided to just enjoy the opportunity I had.”
A couple of weeks later and after much anticipation, Travis got a call. He was asked, “How do you think the interview went?” Travis responded that he felt good about it, but he knew there were many other qualified people. He was told his interview went really well and he got the pilot’s slot. Then he was walked through the process of the training and told how long it will be.
Travis’ wait wasn’t quite over; he had to wait another six months until he was qualified to be sworn in. As with some of the prior times when Travis’ patience was tested, the wait allowed him to make yet another important connection, this time with Russ Hopkinson.
“During the six months I’d be talking to him, asking questions and asking for advice. We became friends. So I asked him to be at the ceremony. Then I asked my recruiter if it was ok if Russ wore his uniform. The recruiter said, “He’s a retired officer…he can swear you in.”
On the day of the swearing in, “after we got up to Salt Lake, I finished my paperwork. They took me to the room and it was the same room as my interview—the long table with all the pilots coming in to watch the ceremony. It was a little intimidating. Russ swore me in. My family and friends were there. Afterwards a Lt. Colonel told me what’s going to happen next.”
What is next for Travis?
He has another flight physical, then he’ll go to AMS (Academy for Military Science) next semester. Then he’s off to officers school, which will be followed by flight training.
When asked if he had any advice to give other aviation students, Travis said, “With hard work and dedication, nothing is impossible. Always move forward in life and take the opportunities that come your way.”