Like Father, Like Son
As Father’s Day approached, a new pilot here had a particularly special memory from Father’s Day last year. While attending C-130 pilot training at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, his father came to visit. His father is no stranger to Little Rock, as he also attended training there as a young aviator and was later stationed there when his son was born. Some might call it a family reunion of sorts.
The new pilot, 1st Lt. Will Jones, began his assignment at the 700th Airlift Squadron, where his father, Lt. Col. John Jones, serves as the 94th Operations Group deputy commander.
By joining the U.S. Air Force, Will continues a family legacy of military service. Will’s grandfather was an Army colonel who fought in both World War II and the Korean War, so Will’s own father had a similar childhood as he did, growing up on military bases and seeing military operations.
“We were stationed at Kadena Air Force Base in Okinawa, Japan,” said John. “My father took me out to the flight line, and we just watched airplanes take off all day long. So that’s what created my interest in flying.”
In his late teens, John decided to join the military. His love of flying drew him to the Air Force.
Almost as if a passion for flying is hereditary, like eye color passed from one generation to the next, John’s son also inherited the love of flying.
Will developed his interest in flying at an early age from hearing his father talk about the C-130 and the missions he flew as a navigator. Additionally, his father would take him to air shows and down to the flight line to see the planes up close.
“Around age three was when I decided I wanted to fly,” said Will.
This passion stayed with him from high school to college, where he avoided the common crisis many students face of trying to determine their paths in life. He had no doubts that he would one day become a pilot.
He chose to fly for the U.S. Air Force Reserve, although it wasn’t because his father pushed the career on him. Much like his father’s path, it was his experience growing up on military bases and hearing stories that inspired his decision to become a pilot.
John might not have pushed his son to join the military, but he did play a major role in his son’s career by providing him a route to channel that motivation. As Will put it, “I was all thrust and no vector.” In other words, Will’s motivation gave him the drive to put in the work required to become a pilot, but it was his father who provided guidance on the education and training required to become a pilot.
Will’s hard work and dedication paid off. He completed pilot training and began flying at Dobbins Air Reserve Base.
Working with a parent or another family member often can pose a number of challenges, as depicted in a variety of sitcoms and movies, but fortunately for the Joneses, they don’t face many challenges.
Although they both work in aviation, their offices are in two separate buildings. They also aren’t allowed to fly together, so they don’t interact as much as they might otherwise. They do, however, find themselves in odd situations at times.\
For Will, this might include meeting Airmen who’ve worked with his father for many years.
“I used to take him out to the drop zone when he was younger, maybe in 6th grade, and the same guys who worked the drop zone out there are the ones working with him now,” John said.
“It’s a little weird, especially with a lot of the leadership here,” said Will. “They knew him long before they knew me, so coming in, I catch a little bit of grief for being ‘Johnny’s kid.’”
And in certain cases, he finds himself in the inevitable situation where he meets his father’s friends who knew him as a baby. Except in his case, they’re now flying a plane with him, a unique aspect of the U.S. Air Force Reserve where Airmen can develop deep camaraderie from spending many years, if not decades, working together.
“I was on the schedule with a navigator who’s known me since I was born, so it’s kind of weird that we were scheduled to fly together,” Will said.
John also finds himself in surreal moments with his son. Imagine sitting across the dinner table from someone one day and then across a conference table the next.
“It’s odd when I’m chairing a meeting and seeing my kid at the end of the table,” said John. “That’s different, but I’m getting used to it.”
Strange moments aside, the two are proud of working together to achieve Will’s dream of flying, and both have vivid memories of the steps along the way.
“This has been kind of a 22-year journey to get from age three to flying a C-130, because that’s what I always wanted to do,” Will said.
John’s pride in his son extends beyond his completion of pilot training to include the discussions and plans they created together to achieve his son’s dream.
“I think every parent wants their kid to fulfill their dream,” said John. “That’s a parent’s dream to be able to do that. And going through the agony and getting all my gray hairs and making sure he goes through all these steps was a challenge, but now, when he finally got his wings and made it through pilot training, it’s a culmination of all the discussions we had over the dinner table and the decades of all the talks that we’ve had coming true. So when he got his wings, that was my proudest moment.
“He’s achieved his dream and now he’s his own person and can go out and can accomplish the things he wants to do.”
(Photo Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Don Peek)