VANCE AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Lt. Col. Chad Stewart retired from active duty during a ceremony held April 28 in the 3rd Flying Training Squadron auditorium.
The ceremony was officiated by Lt. Col. Tyler Robertson, chief of the Strategic Air Mobility Branch at the Pentagon, and a friend of Stewart.
Stewart was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal during the ceremony.
He shared some final thoughts on his career in the Air Force.
Why did you join the Air Force?
“When I was graduating high school my dad, a retired Navy helicopter pilot, pointed me toward ROTC scholarships to help pay for school. I ended up with an Air Force ROTC scholarship in electrical engineering and was admitted to Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I promptly tanked all my freshman pre-engineering classes and lost my scholarship.
“I took a couple years off from school to ‘find myself’ and when I returned there were new incentives that paid cadets some money without being on scholarship. I became a liberal arts major, rejoined the ROTC detachment, and was awarded a pilot slot during my junior year and went from there.”
What's your best memory of your first assignment?
“My first assignment was as a KC-135 pilot at Royal Air Force Mildenhall in England. My wife and I really wanted to be stationed overseas and being assigned to the KC-135 was a great opportunity to do that.
“One of my best experiences there was leading a four-ship of KC-135s to refuel an E-4B with the Secretary of Defense onboard at night in weather. Being a refueling tanker pilot in Europe really opens your eyes to the strategic importance of air refueling.”
What are three reasons you would recommend the Air Force as a career?
“First, the Air Force is a stable, well-paying career. Despite minor finance issues over the years the Air Force has never missed paying me every two weeks for 20 years.
“Second, military flying is extremely rewarding. Nowhere in the world does an organization trust a 25-year-old to lead a four-ship formation of tankers to conduct missions of national importance.
“Third, we have a country and way of life that is worth defending. There is a great sense of accomplishment, despite all our bureaucratic red-tape and issues, in providing for the defense of our nation.”
What advice would you give an airman or lieutenant just starting their Air Force career?
“For a new pilot starting out, my biggest recommendation would be to start and maintain your own logbook and track your own ‘pilot in command’ time. Air Force flight records do not track PIC time.
“Stay optimistic amid high levels of cynicism. Pilots are a salty bunch and it’s easy to get caught up in that. Make choices that reflect the path you want to take with your family but remember that the Air Force gets the final vote. The Air Force will sidetrack you at some point, but when some doors close, others will open.”
What is the biggest change you've witnessed in the Air Force?
“Probably the biggest change I’ve seen in the Air Force surrounds the assignment process. When I was getting ready for a permanent change of station after my first assignment they basically just told me to put the top three tanker bases in my preferred order. I didn’t have much control over the process.
“Now, I think the Air Force has done a great job incorporating the needs of the member and his/her family into the process through the Talent Marketplace.
“Also, I joined a black-boot Air Force and have taken five different styles of physical-fitness tests since starting in ROTC.”