News>Feature - The Patriot Files: Into the wild blue yonder
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cameron Schott, 1st Maintenance Squadron low-observable, aircraft structural maintainer, gives the "thumbs up" during his flight in a T-38 Talon over Langley Air Force Base, Va., June 29, 2012. Cameron earned the flight after being awarded the John L. Levitow award after his completion of Airman Leadership School. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Cameron Schott/Released)
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Cameron Schott, 1st Maintenance Squadron low-observable, aircraft structural maintainer, is strapped into the seat of a T-38 Talon prior to his flight over Langley Air Force Base, Va., June 29, 2012. Schott said the flight served as a reminder that hard work and perseverance will eventually pay off. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo/Released)
by Senior Airman Jarad A. Denton
633rd Air Base Wing Public Affairs
7/10/2012 - LANGLEY AIR FORCE BASE, Va. -- Editor's Note: This story is part of an ongoing series highlighting Service members with exceptional experiences throughout their military careers.
The nose of the plane pitched forward, beginning a sharp decent as the ground below came into clear view.
Staff Sgt. Cameron Schott was forcibly pressed into the rear seat of a T-38 Talon as it flew closer to the ground. At what seemed like the last second, the pilot pulled back on the stick - easing the plane into an even altitude.
"It was amazing," Schott, who works as a low-observable, aircraft structural maintainer for the 1st Maintenance Squadron, said. "I had learned in physics that G-forces would push on my body. But, the actual experience was a lot different. It's not just your body that is pushed on, it's everything inside your body as well."
Enduring the G-forces was a small price to pay for the chance to ride shotgun in a supersonic jet trainer. Schott was presented the opportunity to fly in the T-38 after he earned the most prestigious honor available to Airmen who complete Airman Leadership School, the John L. Levitow award.
"I wasn't gunning for Levitow," Schott said. "All I wanted was to do a good job and get good grades."
Schott said he knew if he procrastinated, ALS would be a difficult experience. He kept himself and his classmates motivated, which secured him a place as a Levitow graduate.
The award was named for Medal of Honor recipient, John L. Levitow, who distinguished himself by using his own body to shield his fellow Airmen from a burning flare, when their AC-47 (Spooky) was hit by a hostile mortar round during a night mission. Already wounded and unable to carry the burning flare, Levitow hugged the device, drug it to the rear of the aircraft and threw it out the open cargo door, seconds before it exploded. To this day, his heroism is remembered through the Airmen who are recognized at the top of their professional military education classes.
"It's the highest scholastic award an Airman can be recognized for in any PME program," said Senior Master Sgt. Leyla Gillett, 633rd Force Support Squadron ALS commandant. "It is based on the Airman's overall score throughout ALS, including academics, communication, assignments, leadership and peer votes."
After Schott earned the award during his graduation, March 2012, he went back to work, never expecting the call to come down that he had earned a chance to fly in a T-38.
"It was definitely surreal," he said. "I really felt a sense of pride during my flight. I've worked here for four years and seen planes flying overhead every day. I never really understood what it was like until I was up there. This flight gave me a new sense of appreciation for what the pilots do every day."
Schott said the entire flight really put into perspective the hard work and dedication which brought him to that moment.
"You never know how, when and where hard work will pay off," he said. "There are times you question if it will ever be worth it. It took four years for me, but this flight made it all worthwhile. I'm forever grateful."