Airman’s past helps ‘pilot’ 476th FG career paths

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Greg Nash
  • 23d Wing Public Affairs

MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- Day after day, he equipped and unloaded inactive F-16 Falcons and A-10C Thunderbolt II’s with munitions in the sweltering South Georgia heat at Moody Air Force Base, Ga.

For 12 years, U.S. Air Force Master Sgt. Rusty Harrell, former inactive 68th Fighter Squadron and 347th Operations Support Squadron armament systems technician, enviously watched pilots aviate the skies. As his desire to fly increased, he wondered if he would ever get the chance to be a pilot.

Fortunately, with his coworkers’ and close friends’ support and advice, the Slocomb, Ala., native decided to stop wondering and traded in his Battle Dress Uniform for a civilian pilot flight suit.

“I envied the pilots because I longed to be like them so bad, but didn’t have the time to pursue an active-duty career and fly at the same time,” said Harrell. “As this burning desire continued each year, I discussed the possibilities of my future plan to my coworkers and close friends. Fortunately, they supported my decision to separate and wanted me to pursue my dream.

“When I finally found the courage to commit to my decision of separating from the Air Force, I knew I was going to be giving up some things that I had worked toward,” Harrell added. “However, the experiences that I had encountered gave me wisdom and [structured discipline] that I’ll always appreciate. There were a lot of positive things I took with me when I became a licensed pilot.”

After separating, Harrell enjoyed a multitude of corporate flying opportunities. However, he missed the military camaraderie and ended his 12-year hiatus by reenlisting into the Air Force Reserves. As a member of the 476th Fighter Group’s aircraft armament section, he was a major contributor, according to Chief Master Sgt. Roy Close, 476th Maintenance Squadron superintendent.

“After being a huge helping hand for the aircraft armament section for several years, there was a need for a career assistance advisor in 2014,” said Close. “Harrell volunteered for the special duty and has since managed all the re-enlistments, extensions and Air Force Specialty bonuses for the [476th Fighter Group].

“In the past years, he has [extensively] assisted approximately 75 members over Unit Training Assembly [reserve] weekends to fulfill their career progression which has been a huge impact for the unit and we’re happy to have him,” Close added.

Now, as the 476th Fighter Group’s career assistance advisor, Harrell provides that same support and guidance that helped navigate his career path to approximately 240 Airmen.

“I advise members on the best way to obtain their goals,” said Harrell. “I try to get to know the Airmen and ask questions to make them consider their career decisions in a thought provoking perspective for their [immediate and distant future.]

“Although my role is to ensure we maintain mission-effectiveness by keeping a healthily manned unit, persuading Airmen to stay in isn’t my goal, but rather showing the benefits of continued service while helping reassure they know what they want to accomplish and are committed to their decisions,” added Harrell.

Harrell advises Airmen on career decisions as they face upcoming extensions, bonus applications and expiring enlistments. Harrell says he is happy to make a difference in the lives of his Airmen as he continues his Flying Tiger legacy.

“I was a Flying Tiger during my first assignment and now have come back in full circle to hopefully retire as one as well,” said Harrell. “It’s fascinating that as I continue my legacy, I’m attempting to help Airmen further embrace their Flying Tiger heritage. I love what I do and I want to pursue my military obligation as long as I’m physically able to and take care of my [family.]”

Once Harrell completes his military obligation, he plans to continue being a medical evacuation pilot at a local airport, servicing emergency ambulatory transports across the Southeastern United States.