Heil retires from career that included hand-drawn charts and glass cockpits

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  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Lt. Col. Daniel Heil retired from active duty during a ceremony held at 3 p.m., Friday, June 11, in the 8th Flying Training Squadron auditorium at Vance Air Force Base.

Heil, the 71st Operations Group deputy commander, shared insights on an Air Force career that began at the Air Force Academy.

Why did you join the Air Force?

“I joined the Air Force in the summer of 1997 when I entered the United States Air Force Academy.

What's your best memory of your first assignment?

“I was commissioned May 31, 2001, and was assigned causal duty with the Athletic Department at the Academy.

“After the September 11 attacks, all the second lieutenants on causal status at the Academy were put on security details. When it came time for the Army vs Air Force football game at the Academy, I was assigned to the personal security detail for the ESPN College GameDay crew.

“For a college football player, this was a dream come true to hang out all day and talk football with Chris Follower, Kirk Herbstreit and the coach, Lee Corso. When it was time for the flyovers this guy came running out of the TV trailer and yelled, ‘Hey you, Air Force guy, get in here.’

“When I walked in they had me tell them what the airplanes were and they piped that info into the crews’ ear pieces so they would know what they were talking about on TV.”

What are three reasons you would recommend the Air Force as a career?

“You get to serve and defend this great country and the ideas and principles it stands for.

“You get to work with the cream of the crop of individuals.

“You get to experience and see some real cool things. It is not your typical job. I have worked with Italians, British, Spaniards, Austrians, Japanese, Koreans, Columbians, Argentineans and Costa Ricans.”

What advice would you give an airman or lieutenant just starting their Air Force career?

Take advantage of every training and educational opportunity you can. The most impactful and best training I received was my Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape training. Being put in those situations will really let you know who you are and who you want to become.

“During the training, the day we were released from the POW camp, they came over the loud speaker and announced Pfc. Jessica Lynch had just been rescued from her Iraqi captors. A couple months later when I showed up at my new unit I learned that they had participated in that rescue.”

What is the biggest change you've witnessed in the Air Force?

The advancement in technology has been amazing in the last 20 years. When I was going through pilot training we had to make low-level charts by hand and we were training in a 1950s T-37 cockpit.

“Now the students have low-level charts on the iPads and the T-1A Jayhawk is an all glass (digital) cockpit. Despite all the changes, one truth holds true. You can never replace the learning you get by having air underneath your butt.

“I remember at the start of pilot training they told us you have been given two bags -- a full bag of luck and an empty bag of knowledge and skill. It is your job to fill the empty bag with as much knowledge and skill before the bag of luck runs out.”