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NEWS | March 20, 2024

Teen Joins Pennsylvania National Guard as Helicopter Pilot

By Maj. Travis Mueller, Joint Force Headquarters - Pennsylvania National Guard

FORT INDIANTOWN GAP, Pa. – Isaac Bell knows the path to becoming a helicopter pilot as a 19-year-old will be hard, but he is embracing the challenge ahead of him.

Bell took the oath of enlistment March 15 during a ceremony at Muir Army Heliport, surrounded by loved ones and Pennsylvania National Guard leaders, including Maj. Gen. Michael Regan, deputy adjutant general-air, and Brig. Gen. Laura McHugh, deputy adjutant general-Army.

Bell joined the Pennsylvania National Guard as military occupational specialty 09W through a program known as “streets to seats” or “high school to flight school.” The program allows recruits to join with a direct path to flight school after basic training. It has enabled Bell, who has also served in the Civil Air Patrol since he was 12, to fulfill his aspiration of serving in the military while flying.

“Serving in the military has always been a goal of mine since before I could remember,” said Bell. “I have also been blessed with being around aviation since before I was born, quite literally. I have spent hours flying with my uncle, father and mother. My family has always taken our summer vacation to go to an airplane fly-in, where we take our family’s small plane and spend the week flying. I also volunteer at a WW1 aviation museum called Golden Age Air Museum and have been a part of another up-and-coming WW2 aviation museum, Wings of War. These things, and many more, are big reasons why aviation has always been a big part of my life.”

Historically, Soldiers have been able to apply for flight school after serving a couple of years or becoming an officer. Army aviation is known as an inherently dangerous operation, so this opportunity was afforded to Bell after a rigorous selection process.

“Today really is a special day. We have this program available to us, but it’s not a program for just anybody,” McHugh said. “We have a rigorous program to really be able to capture those folks who could be successful. And that’s what Isaac is to us. He is the candidate that we’re looking for — 19-year-old kid, very driven, mature, focused. He’s the kind of kid we want for this program.”

Given the Army’s recruiting challenges, this program was reinvigorated to open doors to potential recruits who may be on the fence or aspire to fly. Bell hopes it will recruit more aviators who may not be interested in doing anything else in the Army. The program is available to Pennsylvania Army National Guard recruits.

Wearing “U.S. Army” on his chest will start a new chapter in his family’s military — primarily Air Force — legacy. But they will share in the common interest of aviation as well as Pennsylvania National Guard service, including his mother, a Pennsylvania National Guard Airman.

“Anyone who joins the Pennsylvania National Guard, regardless of whether they choose Air or Army, we’re all part of the same team,” Regan said. “It’s a family. It’s a strong organization built on legacies that goes all the way back to the beginning.”

Due to the civilian job market and increasing opportunities with airlines, the Army National Guard is finding it increasingly challenging to recruit pilots. But for many who have that call to serve and are seeking a greater sense of purpose, the program that Bell is taking advantage of may be what helps guide them to a career in military service.

After the rigorous selection process, Bell focuses on basic training, where he must first learn to become a Soldier.

“I must admit that I am a bit nervous, but I am relieved at that same time that I have reached this point. I am very excited and look forward to the beginning of the next chapter of my journey,” Bell said. “There were numerous times where I was told that it was not possible to go this route, but when one door closed another one opened and made it seem achievable again. You must keep the end goal in mind and always stay confident and not quit.”



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