Story by A1C Eugene Oliver on 08/07/2019"All along my plan has been to become a pilot, but in order to achieve my dream I had to travel an unconventional route."
Enlisting in the Air Force in February of 2004 with the goal of eventually becoming a pilot, Capt. Robert Poe had to excel in multiple career fields spanning more than 10 years, before being selected for pilot training. Now, Poe is the 74th Fighter Squadron (FS) chief of safety, an A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot with more than 4,500 total flying hours and is one of the few Airmen to have earned three different aviation badges.
"Each set of wings have their own special place in my heart because I had to struggle so much to achieve each one," Poe said. "I always made it very clear to my colleagues that my ultimate goal was to become a pilot.
"It's interesting how each AFSC I've been in has played its own special role into the Airman that I am now."
Poe's first career field in the Air Force was a boom operator for the KC-135 Stratotanker. In order to receive his enlisted aircrew badge, Poe had to go through a rigorous aircrew undergraduate course along with a Basic Boom Operator Course (BBOC). Poe completed both courses while still having to deal with the personal challenges that come with joining the military at the age of 18.
"When I first joined the Air Force, I had to break a lot of my young habits to make something of myself," Poe said. "Throughout aircrew training, I had to remain focused and concentrate on the ultimate goal to earn my wings."
As a boom operator apprentice, Poe progressed to become an instructor while flying more than 2,300 hours in the KC-135 with more than 200 combat sorties in support of Operations Enduring and Iraqi Freedom.
"I deployed quite a bit while I was a boom operator and during that time I was able to complete a lot of my schooling. After six years in the Air Force, I applied for Officer Training School (OTS) and was picked up to become a navigator," Poe said. "Although I was somewhat disappointed that I didn't get a pilot assignment, I don't regret it at all because it was a necessary stepping stone to push me in the direction that I needed to go."
Upon graduation from OTS and completion of a combat systems officer (CSO) course, Poe earned his CSO badge and became a navigator for the U-28A aircraft for the 319th Special Operations Squadron at Hurlburt Field, Fla. directly supporting the Joint Special Operations Forces.
"The motivation to receive my CSO wings was hard because I knew it wasn't 100 percent what I wanted to do," Poe said. "So staying focused and determined through that time was a real challenge. But in hindsight it was the most rewarding job of my Air Force career."
Poe spent more than three years as a navigator, but throughout that time he continued to strive and push himself.
"While working on my master's, I still strived to be the best CSO that I could," Poe said. "I continued to give my best effort at being a navigator."
Finally, in 2013 after nearly 10 years in the Air Force, Poe was selected to attend Euro NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training with the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas.
"It was gratifying to finally get selected for pilot training because it proved to me how staying focused and giving it your all truly has its rewards," Poe said.
In order to become fully qualified as an A-10 pilot, Poe had to complete three separate aviation schools over two years to finally earn his pilot badge.
"I thought that my background in my previous career fields would help with my pilot training, but no," Poe said. "Each day came with its own set of difficulties, but throughout it all I continued to think back to how I persevered through all of my other training to get there and leaned on my work ethic to push through."
After graduating in 2016, Poe did a tour in the 25th Fighter Squadron, at Osan Air Base, Republic of Korea, before he moved to Moody where he is now the 74th FS chief of safety.
As chief of safety, Poe is responsible for facilitating and resolving all safety reports for the 74th FS. Along with that, he's still required to maintain his flight qualifications and complete his sorties.
Now that Poe has finally achieved the goal he was chasing for nearly a decade, 23d Fighter Group leadership believes his journey, and the lessons learned, help him complete his mission as a pilot.
"Poe's experience brings multiple unique perspectives to our Flying Tiger community," said Col. Ryan Haden, 23d Fighter Group commander. "Poe's background is incredibly valuable because he has a unique ability to identify both opportunities and costs that the rest of us might miss. His previous qualifications have exposed him to different aspects of safety and crew resource management practices that I know he shares with fellow aviators across the 23d Wing.
"What I think might be the most important aspect of Poe's journey is his incredible example of tenacity and resilience; illustrating how to fight for what you want while never allowing closed doors to deter you."