Team Vance aviators, controllers help Ohio girls with dreams of flight

  • Published
  • By 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts
  • 71st Flying Training Wing Public Affairs

VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. – Forty-four campers in Dayton, Ohio, couldn’t sleep Nov. 5 because the next day was so special - they were going to fly for the first time. Nine women from Team Vance helped make that happen, in support of an organization called Air Camp.  

Air Camp, founded in 2006, gives young people a hands-on introduction to aviation and aeronautics. This edition of the camp was for girls in the high school age range who wanted to see what it takes to be a pilot. That’s where Vance got involved. 

1st Lt. Anne-Marie Czyznik, an instructor pilot in the 3rd Flying Training Squadron at Vance is from Dayton and organized Team Vance participation.

“My parents volunteer for Air Camp all the time,” said Czyznik. “As soon as my parents found out Air Camp was doing an all-girl camp, they called to see if I wanted to get involved.” 

From there, it evolved quickly.

“The leadership at Vance not only supported me going, but wanted to make it bigger,” said Czyznik. In total, six pilots, two air traffic controllers and a Public Affairs officer attended the event to mentor the young women at the camp. 

“It was super inspiring to see that so many wanted to spend their weekend talking with young women about the career field,” said Czyznik. She ended up having more volunteers than could attend. 

Czyznik coordinated the Vance participation with Shannon Coblentz, the Director of Operations of Air Camp. “The point of this event is for the young women to walk away thinking, ‘I could be her,’” said Coblentz. “That’s what we want them to learn today.”

The Vance volunteers were assigned to one of four stations that the camp attendees rotated through. The stations were flight planning, a STEM panel, a flight engineering challenge and simulators. The stations were designed to prepare the high-school students for a 45-minute flight with a certified flight instructor from the Lewis A. Jackson Regional Airport, just outside Dayton.

At each of the stations, the Vance volunteers spoke about their experiences in the Air Force and challenges they’ve overcome. 

At the STEM panel, the air traffic controllers spoke about more ways to get involved in aviation than flying the aircraft.

In the flight engineering challenge, pilots from Vance helped solve real-world challenges that female aviators have had to overcome. For example, the students took a large flight suit, made for males, and found a way to make it functional for a smaller female body. 

In the flight planning session, two Vance pilots taught students how to prepare a flight plan, using a sectional chart.

Finally, the students each flew in the computer-based simulators prior to actually flying. 

At the end of the 10-hour day camp, the Vance pilots pinned each of the students with wings for completing the four modules. 

While the young women attending Air Camp got a chance to interact with pilots for the first time, the Vance volunteers engaged with two Vance alumni -- retired Air Force Maj. Gen. Mike Mushala, a Vance student pilot in 1973; and Air Force retired Lt. Gen. Dick Reynolds, a Vance student pilot in 1971, and a co-founder of Air Camp.

“I think about my time at Vance as a first-assignment instructor pilot,” said Reynolds. “Those were the glory days. There’s nothing like being a young lieutenant or captain at Vance.” 

Reynolds gave a challenge coin to each of the nine volunteers from Vance. “This has by far been the best Air Camp we’ve had in 12 years,” said Reynolds. “You’ve hit it out of the park for us -- Bravo Zulu.” 

(Editor’s note: “Bravo Zulu” is a naval term meaning “well done.”)

In addition to Czyznik, the Team Vance volunteers were: Maj. Colby Shufeldt and Capt. Ashley Kneller, instructor pilots with the 3rd Flying Training Squadron; Capt. Kyele Bridel and 1st Lt. Ashley Bird, instructor pilots with the 33rd Flying Training Squadron; 2nd Lt. Catherine Schwarzler, a student pilot with the 3rd FTS; Staff Sgts. Heather Reed and Taylor Kenney, air traffic controllers with the 71st Operations Support Squadron; and 2nd Lt. Alyssa Letts, Public Affairs officer with the 71st Flying Training Wing.