“Becoming a Pilot: Justin Cajero”
“I grew up in southwest Arkansas. It’s a small town with approximately 6,000 people living within the city limits – the biggest town within the hour and the only one with a super Walmart. It’s a great place to grow up with plenty of woods and lakes to fish and hunt. At 18, I moved to Milledgeville, Georgia to attend Georgia Military College and joined the Army.”
Describe to me the moment you decided to join the military. Who or what led you to that decision?
“Originally, I had decided to follow in my brother’s footsteps and enlist in the Marine Corps. Unbeknownst to me, while I was preparing for a summer in Camp Pendleton with the Marines, I had a physics teacher filling out college applications for me at junior military colleges throughout the country. He became a mentor to me and slowly convinced me that getting a college degree before enlisting would open doors throughout my service that otherwise would remain shut. In hindsight, this one decision has had more of an impact on my life than any other one decision. It enabled me to commission as an officer via an accelerated program in the U.S. Army in 2006. It allowed me to accomplish my dream of becoming a pilot as well as a myriad of other benefits that I wasn’t even aware of at 18.”
What was your job in the Army? What type of training did you have to undergo to be certified for that position?
“I was a 15A throughout my career. 15A’s are the commissioned officer pilots in the Army. Although pilots, our primary job was to manage the operations and soldiers that make up the aviation elements within the Army. I initially flew the UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter. Shortly after graduating flight school, I re-trained on the AH-64 Apache helicopter in order to prepare for a deployment to northern Afghanistan.”
“Flight school is a strenuous 18-24-month endeavor while stationed in southeast Alabama. The first four months of the course is made up the generic Basic Officer Leadership Course. It is followed by the three week U.S. Army S.E.R.E C course (Survive, Escape, Resist, Evade) and DUNKER training (Helicopter over-water training). The following 6-8 months consist of initial entry course into the rotary wing world of helicopters with the last 4-6 months spent focusing on the Army Advanced Aircraft (Blackhawk, Apache, Chinook, or Kiowa).”
What was your most memorable experience as a pilot?
“My first flight in northern Afghanistan as a newly minted AH-64 pilot was while I was filling in for a fellow Company Commander’s QRF (Quick Reaction Force) shift. The QRF concept is pretty straightforward. The Apache Battalions are typically tasked with 24-hour support of ground forces while on deployment. I filled in on the night QRF shift on this occasion, when we received the call that a German Special Operations force team was hit by an RPG (Rocket Propelled Grenade). This would be my first opportunity to see the importance of quality training and maintenance.”
When you hear the term “leader” who is the first person that comes to mind?
“My Dad. He emigrated to this country at 22 and built a life for my Mom and her two kids. He had raised his 11 brothers and sisters after his mom died when he was 12. Leaders do what needs to be done for the betterment of the whole. My father has done that my whole life. He worked two jobs most of my life to ensure that our family was taken care of.”
Who are some of the soldiers you worked with that had an impact on your service?
“Specialist Sawyer was a Filipino immigrant who joined the U.S. Army after coming to the United States. Although older than most of her peers, she worked harder to be the most physically fit soldier in our Brigade. She was assigned to me because she had prior experience as a civilian in the Middle East. We would work 12-hour days most days of the deployment. Somehow she managed to continue taking classes throughout the deployment. Recently, she received her commission as a Second Lieutenant within the U.S. Army Communications Branch.”
What would you like the average civilian know about the military?
“The U.S. Military is a great opportunity for one to learn who they are as a person. It is also a place where one can learn the great things that people of different races, genders, and religions can do once differences are set aside and the group learns to work together.”
How has your military service changed you?
“It has helped me to be more understanding as well as grateful. Several of the countries I visited during my time in the service exposed me to people that need nothing short of a miracle for them to live normal, ordinary lives.”
Tell me about your best day in the Army. Tell me about your worst day.”
My best day was in July of 2017. It was coming home from 21 months in the Middle East and getting to hug my wife and parents.
My worst day was while I was still in Georgia Military College. My cousin who was stationed in Baghdad, Iraq had been shot by a sniper while providing security for the Iraqi Elections. He left a newborn daughter, two sons, and wife behind.”