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Pararescue to pilot – One Airman’s journey

Pararescue

2nd Lt. James Barnard went from battlefield Airman to Air Force pilot, trading his pararescueman maroon beret for gold bars and pilot wings. (U.S. Air Force photo illustration/ Airman 1st Class Zachary Heal)

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Not many pilots can say that they have served in ground operations, were specifically trained for combat and rescue missions and can deploy at a moment’s notice. But 2nd Lt. James Barnard can.

He is one of more than 350 U.S. Air Force pilots delivered each year from Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma.

Barnard graduated from student pilot training April 19, 2019, and is currently learning to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker at Altus Air Force Base, Oklahoma. But he began his Air Force career as a pararescueman.

A special operations combat medic, commonly called a PJ, Barnard was specifically trained to rescue downed aircrew members from hostile areas. But PJs are often called upon to rescue military members in all branches of service.

Barnard was a staff sergeant when he was commissioned in November of 2017 through Officer Training School. He was selected for a rated-pilot slot and assigned to Vance for a year-long undergraduate pilot training program.

In addition to earning his pilot wings, he learned a great deal about officership and how to conduct himself as a military aviator.

“Flying is only part of the job,” said Barnard. “Professionalism follows you everywhere you go.”

Ten days after earning his pilot wings at Vance, Barnard reported to Altus Air Force Base for upgrade training in the KC-135.

“The training is five months long for KC-135s,” said Barnard. “We have 36 sims to complete and six flights.”

Going from an enlisted pararescueman, to a commissioned officer and learning to fly was a dream come true for Barnard.

“I thank God every day that things have worked out the way they have. And at the end of the day I can’t complain -- I get paid to fly," he said.

Barnard now takes his place among more than 34,000 pilots Team Vance has delivered since the first class reported in 1941.

Follow Barnard’s pilot training journey on Instagram @ “VanceAFB.”