Life After Lanphier – Justin Linder (Class of 2011)

I’ve been out of high school for almost seven years and out of college for three. The teachers that I remember most were the ones who pushed me to my greatest potential. I didn’t want to put any more effort into school than what I needed. I didn’t want to try to properly enunciate my words more clearly in Speech. I didn’t want to write any more articles for The Roar my senior year, but I did! Guess what? Hard work pays dividends.

My junior year was a big year. There were so many things to worry about like the ACT/SAT, grades, college applications, girlfriends, and is it chicken day or not? The first three in the last sentence are the important matters. The rest can wait.  Many people grow up with aspirations to do something big with their lives. Whether it is to be a doctor, nurse, teacher, rocket scientist, or a banker, we all have a dream to make it big some day. Let me tell you that it is a lot easier than you think.

I grew up on the Northend in the same house for the 18 years I lived in Springfield. I went to Pleasant Hill Elementary, Lincoln Magnet Middle, and then  graduated from Lanphier. I sat probably in the same desks that the school district uses today. I played baseball and football all four years of high school, and myy senior year I made the basketball team, I thought, because I was good. It wasn’t until my coach told my mother that I made the team because I was a leader and a good mentor for the guys to be around that I found out the truth. In high school, I saw that as a bump in my ego. Today, I see it as a reason to write this article.

Too many of my high school friends have gone on to do nothing, not tapping into their potential. Somewhere in their path, they bought into their doubt and self-pity. Guess what? I had those same beliefs pass through my head numerous times. The road to success is a long trek but very achievable if your work ethic never falters.

After high school, I knew that I wanted to be a pilot. It was a dream of mine that I had since taking my first flight to Las Vegas at age five. It was awesome to get sucked back into your seat as the engines spooled up on the runway for takeoff. I wanted to be the guy pushing up those throttles. The question for me was how do I get there?

After graduating from LHS, I went to Southern Illinois University, Carbondale.  I studied in Aviation Management and was a part of Air Force ROTC. College included some of the best days of my life. Southern Illinois is beautiful and has many options for outdoorsy people with its available hiking trails in the national forests.

I know you’re probably nervous just thinking about college, but let me tell you that some of it is easier than the AP classes you took in high school! The general education classes made it seem like I was right back at Lanphier with all the basic core subjects. That was a difficult phase for me because I felt already knew it all and couldn’t understand why I had to take it all over again for another semester. However, once I was able to begin the classes for my major, talking about airplanes and airports all day long, I knew I made the right decision. The final years of college were what I was waiting for, and the classes were perfect because I was studying something my heart desired. It was no longer trying to memorize the periodic table. I was enjoying school for a change.

Air Force ROTC was an added bonus to the college experience for me. I was able to grow my leadership skills in ways I never thought possible. Whether it was marching, ironing uniforms, mandatory physical training, or public speaking, it was the cheapest form of discipline there was. I was able to hone my skills and be molded into an officer in the United States Air Force. As corny as it sounds, I will be forever thankful for my time as a cadet. ROTC blessed me with two things, my pilot slot and friends all over the United States for vacation.

Less than five weeks after walking across the college graduation stage, I was headed south. For the last three years, Columbus, Mississippi has been where I call home. I originally came here planning to stay just for pilot training and get my dream jet to somewhere else. The man above had other plans, and now, I’m an instructor pilot teaching students in the last phase of pilot training. Every day, I wake up and weather permitting, I get to go fly fast jets all across the southern U.S. Whether it is with one plane, two planes, or four planes, I get to be airborne and share a passion of mine every day with students.

The Air Force has designed pilot training to be a 54-week program with three phases. The first phase is just academics. The second phase is primary flying in the T-6 Texan II. It is a small propeller driven airplane that we use to teach students in for six months. Then the last phase is what I teach. I fly the T-38 Talon which is the trainer aircraft that we teach students how to fly fighter type aircraft in the Air Force. The training consists of flying acrobatics, formation, and off-station.

Off-station flights are primarily for students to learn how to fly to a different airport other than Columbus Air Force Base. Acrobatic training is going out and doing all the loops and barrel rolls that you see at an airshow. Formation is just like it sounds. We will go out with either two or four planes and fly around in formation. My job is to help develop a student’s skills as a pilot, so that they can go on and become a great asset in the Air Force. It is a dream I thought would never be possible, but here I am.

So just when you believe that you will never amount to anything, think again. I sat in the same seat you did.  My name is probably in some of your textbooks. I’m no different from you. I only want to see my fellow Lions succeed in life. Feel free to talk to Mrs. Davis about how to get in contact with me if there are any questions about the Air Force, Air Force ROTC, SIU, or flying. I would love to help answer any questions and get you on the right path.

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