CullmanTimes.com - Cullman, Alabama

July 3, 2013

Post 9/11 GI Bill Covers Pilot Training Through Wallace State Flight Program


WSCC Media Relations

— Military veterans looking to start a new career in aviation can take advantage of a Post 9/11 GI Bill that will cover, in many cases, 100 percent of their tuition and fees for the Wallace State Community College’s Flight program.

Veterans who have served at least three years (36 months) of active duty since Sept. 11, 2001, are eligible to receive up to 100 percent of their costs for education and training. A housing stipend is also available to those who are eligible.

The post 9/11 legislation is titled S.3447 and includes flight training as one of its approved courses because the airline industry is forecasting a shortage of pilots in upcoming years.

Veterans who lack three years of service since 9/11 are still eligible for assistance at a prorated amount. Once students are enrolled, they have 36 months to complete their training.

Potential students should note that the gibill.va.gov website does claim to pay for everything but a private pilot license when utilizing the program. However, Marsha Bradford of the WSCC Flight Technology program, said that restriction is waived when the license is required as part of a degree program, as it is at WSCC.

David Hensely of Attalla is one veteran who recently earned his helicopter pilot license utilizing the GI Bill.  The Union City, Tenn., native put his dream of becoming a helicopter pilot on the back burner until he heard about the GI Bill and Wallace State’s flight program.

Hensely commuted back and forth from Attalla to earn his associate degree in helicopter flight technology. He said he is thankful for his instructors at Wallace State who guided him through the program.

“They did an excellent job and they’re very knowledgeable,” he said. “They have a wealth of knowledge. If you’re willing to learn, they’re willing to teach you.

“Wallace State overall is definitely a school I would recommend to someone,” he said.

Hensley continues to take courses at WSCC and hopes to become a certified flight instructor, working toward earning more flight hours and experience. With those additional hours and experience, he will have a much better chance to enter a field that is in great need of pilots.

With about three more months left in the Air Force, Willie Turpin of Atlanta is also utilizing the GI Bill to earn his helicopter pilot license at Wallace State. Turpin travels from Atlanta every weekend, supplementing training he also receiving at a Georgia college.

Turpin said he chose to attend Wallace because his flight times were being cut back in Georgia, so in order to speed up the process he applied at Wallace State.

“I’ve tripled my flight hours,” Turpin said, and he expects to complete his flight training ahead of schedule during the fall semester. He is working toward a goal of becoming a pilot for a medical air-evac operation. Without the GI Bill, Turpin said he wouldn’t be able to attend flight school.

Turpin said he often encourages other active and retired military friends to consider flight school. “I tell them it’s an opportunity they shouldn’t pass by, but some aren’t too keen on heights,” he said. “They’ll see me making a good living and change their mind.”

James Harris is a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corp and is working on obtaining his airplane pilot license, with plans to also earn a helicopter pilot license.

Harris, a native of Detroit, Mich., currently lives in Madison and has been in the flight program for a year and a half. Having the opportunity to become a pilot through the GI Bill is a blessing, he said.

“I’ve always wanted to fly, and the GI Bill is helping me do that,” Harris said. “It’s unheard of from where I’m from for somebody to say, ‘Hey, I fly airplanes.’ It’s just an awesome opportunity.”

The instructors in the Wallace State program are proud to be able to provide the veterans in the program with the opportunity to earn their pilot licenses and provide them with the potential to make a good living.

Department chair Bert Mackentepe said soon there will be a large demand for pilots as many current pilots are reaching retirement age. The jobs in the field range from commercial and corporate airplane pilots to helicopter pilots working for oil companies. Salaries can range from $25,000 starting out, but quickly climbing to $75,000 and $150,000 as more experience is gained.

“I think it’s outstanding to be able to support the vets like this,” helicopter flight instructor Ted Stokes said of the GI Bill. “It definitely gives them an opportunity to expand their future. A lot of the vets are looking for an exciting career and I would say that satisfies that capability, give them something to kind of challenge them.”

Stokes said he would encourage veterans to take advantage of the Post 9/11 GI Bill. “Right now the resources are there, the opportunity is there and they deserve to take advantage of it.

“It’s definitely to their benefit,” he added. “They’ve served their time and it’s well deserved.”

For more information about the post 9/11 qualifications, please contact Bradford or WSCC Flight Technology Department Head Bert Mackentepe at 256-737-3040 or 1-800-238-6681 or Joyce Cordes in the Wallace State Financial Aid office at 352-8255.

Along with flight training, the Post 9/11 GI Bill can also be used for degree programs and for vocational training, such as HVAC certification, truck driving, EMT certification, cosmetology school, all of which are offered at Wallace State. Visit gibill.va.gov to learn about the Post 9/11 GI Bill program and the other educational opportunities it can provide.