How a Water Polo player turned U.S. Air Force pilot inspires the next generation…

  • Published
  • By Tim Gantner
  • 340th Flying Training Group Public Affairs

…and how you can become a pilot too!

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas - U.S Air Force Lt. Col. Jon Somogyi cruises through Converse, Texas, turning onto Judson lane, returning to his alma mater at Judson High School. He's meeting with Air Force Junior ROTC students to teach them what their future could hold.

Mark Hiatt, a former colleague of Jon, asked his friend if he could speak to students and Jon didn't hesitate, saying: "I always jump at the chance to give back." 

Mark commands the AFJROTC program. The two have known each other for years after working together at the 340th Flying Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. Mark retired from the Air Force last year as a lieutenant colonel after serving 27 years. 

Jon's first impression of Mark leading the program at his alma mater is something he could see himself doing down the road. "It's great! I hope I can continue to serve in a similar fashion after I retire," says Jon.

Mark wanted to bring in the best for his students, so he knew who to call.

"I wanted Jon to speak to the students as a way to inspire the next generation of pilots," and Jon agrees, "It's essential to talk to young adults in the community because they are our future pilots."

The approach to speaking to teenagers about life as a pilot should be authentic and honest, says Jon. "I try to provide an honest look at military life without glorifying the 'good' or hiding the 'bad.' I want each person to make the best, most informed decision."

As Jon walks into the class, he has his hands full. He's holding his flight suit, helmet customized with a cobra, a 30mm A-10 shell, and a surprise.

The surprise happens to be a plaque he presents to Mark commemorating his time with the 340th FTG.

Before the presentation, Jon makes one thing clear, "As someone that attended Judson and grew up in the area, please know that if someone like me can become a pilot, then anyone can."

This piece of advice is something Jon firmly believes. He acknowledges he had no desire to become a pilot as a water polo player at Judson High School in the late 1990s.

"Can you wear glasses and still be a pilot?" asks a student in the back wearing an Air Force mask, "Yes, you can.” Says Jon. He also recommends holding off on Lasik surgery as it may prevent you from becoming a pilot.

Jon plays a jaw-dropping video for the class. The students look on as Jon flies an A-10 'Warthog' Thunderbolt II.

"So cool," a student responds.

Jon passes around an A-10 shell from the plane’s seven-barrel Gatling gun that fires at about 65 rounds per second.

One student asks what kind of damage can an A-10 shell do and, without pause, "It’s always a bad day if you’re an enemy of the United States and an A-10 is coming your way,” says Jon.

The students chuckle.

Mark says it means the world to have Jon talk to his students because it helps them see the path to what pilots do and how they operate.

"Having someone like Jon come and talk to my class is great because doors can open, and the students realize they have many more options for their futures, like joining a branch of the armed forces," says Mark, especially when an ROTC scholarship to college makes all the difference in a young person's life.

At the end of Jon's presentation, A few high-speed cadets get up and ask him more questions about life as a pilot.

Mark thanks Jon when it's time to wrap up: "It means a lot to have Jon visit because he comes to talk to us and expects nothing in return."

As Jon packs his vehicle and heads back to Randolph, he expresses the importance of talking to young men and women. "There might be one young person on the fence, trying to decide whether he or she can go to college or become a pilot. I hope I can be that one extra bit of motivation."