Local students picked for prestigious Air Force programs

Two students want to become Air Force pilots, one plans to go into engineering and the Air Force.

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

Three local students have been accepted into prestigious Air Force programs meant to help students get into careers in aviation.

Lilly Mellon, a Stebbins High School senior, and Owen Berrier, a Springboro High School senior, will both be attending the Air Force’s JROTC Flight Academy, a program meant to train people to address the shortage of pilots in both the Air Force and commercially. The program covers room, board and the work toward a pilot’s license, which is condensed into eight weeks and is held at a partner university.

About 171 students were picked out of the more than 800 who applied. Four students were chosen from Ohio, and Mellon and Berrier were two of the four.

Additionally, Berrier and Gabriella Lawrence, also a Springboro senior, received the Air Force JROTC’s J-100 Character-In-Leadership Scholarship, which pays tuition, up to $10,000 for housing and a book stipend. Once students complete the program, they are commissioned as second lieutenants. A total of 100 students receive the scholarship and five students from Ohio were named this year.

Lawrence said she wants to become an engineer with the Air Force, and is looking at chemical or electrical engineering. As the daughter of a former Air Force member, she said the military is something that always appealed to her, from its values to its connections with other former service members to its commitment to service.

“We’re able to serve and be able to help,” Lawrence said.

Both Mellon and Berrier said they fell in love with flying when they were able to fly in the co-pilot seats of small planes, an opportunity each had through JROTC. But each had a very different path to that moment.

Mellon said she originally wanted to be a geologist but joined JROTC as a freshman in high school because her instructor, retired Lt. Col. David W. Yunt, came into a study hall she had and asked everyone if they wanted to fly a plane. She joined the next semester and stayed because of the community she built.

When Yunt took Mellon up the first time, she said it was something she immediately knew she wanted to do again.

“It was like discovering something new, but it clicking,” she said.

Berrier’s father, retired Lt. Col. Todd Berrier, who is also his JROTC instructor, was in the Air Force and encouraged his interest. But Berrier said he was always interested in plane engines and fascinated by how they worked.

“I always get super emotional and get chill bumps every time I see a plane in the sky or step into an airport,” Berrier said.

He said the sense of community also helped him stay in JROTC and helped him find a second family. During his freshman and sophomore years, Berrier said he didn’t talk to many people. But because JROTC encourages its students to do public speaking and kept the same students around him all four years, it became a way for him to open up, he said.

Mellon said she wants the JROTC Flight Academy to help her decide if this is the right career path for her. While it’s something she wants, she said the transition from high school to college to career can be scary.

Part of the Flight Academy’s mission is to diversify flying. According to the Air Force, women make up less than 7% of pilots, and minorities represent less than 12%. Mellon said she knows she’ll likely get pushback because women aren’t common in the field, but she sees that as a challenge.

Berrier said he hopes to work with a greater variety of people than ever before. But he also said he loves flying and wants the Flight Academy to help him shape that love.

“It’s like a feeling that I want to chase, and I get to chase that through this Flight Academy,” he said.

Mellon encouraged people to try JROTC if they think they might benefit from it.

“Especially younger women who are intimidated by the military, I want them to not feel that way,” she said. “And I want them to just do it because it’s been the best experience of my whole high school career.”

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