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2nd Lt. earns Air Medal

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Before pilots fly in a deployed environment they have to become "mission ready." From the start of pilot training the process takes upwards of two years, but one hard-charging second lieutenant managed to obtain his commission, his wings and fly more than 20 combat sorties in the area of responsibility before reaching his first promotion.

It's an accomplishment few pilots can claim.

"It is extremely rare these days for a pilot to receive his wings and then fly combat missions as a second lieutenant," Lt. Col. James Sweeney, 361st Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron commander, said.

2nd Lt. Christopher Everding, an MC-12W pilot with the 361st here, completed training to receive his wings, completed land and water survival training, and blazed through a fast paced MC-12W training, flew his check ride, and traveled to Afghanistan a week later.

Everding says flying more than 20 combat missions in 25 days wasn't premeditated and neither was completing his training early.

"I just showed up and followed the time line for my training and did what I was told," Everding said.

Some of his classmates that qualified around the same time still had local checks and prerequisites to complete at their new flying squadrons stateside, whereas Everding passed his MC-12W airframe training and then immediately deployed, he said.

Sweeney attributes his success to not just training, but to something else: his attitude.

"Everding is a stellar pilot; he has a phenomenal attitude, and a great work ethic," Sweeney said. "These characteristics are unique to find in such a young person and it's great that he possesses all three. It's certainly contributed to his success."

Everding is happy that, for now, all the flight certifications are out to the way so he can do what he loves best.

"The Air Force is stressful at times, but I love it here," Everding said. "The red tape, the administrative processes are out of the way. Here I get to fly every day."

Sweeney says they are monitoring his monthly flight hours so he doesn't go over his 90 day limit too soon.

"There's a limit on how many hours a pilot can fly in 30 days; 150 hours and no more than 400 hours in a 90-day period," Sweeney said.

The squadron's primary mission is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, to directly support ground forces.

"We support more than 50 ground units, including other services and coalition forces, at various locations all around Afghanistan," Sweeney said.

Everding also provides residual base defense, patrolling the airfield perimeter to secure and protect the approximately 25,000 people on Kandahar.

"I really enjoy being deployed," "Here I can specifically see the direct impact I have on the mission versus the indirect impact I will have flying other airframes."

Not only is he gaining a sense of accomplishment, but he's gaining a wider perspective on Air Force operations at a very early point in his career.

"He will have a better understanding of how air and ground forces integrate to conduct operations, which is unique," Sweeney said. "For him to get this experience now, and take that knowledge and experience back to other platforms to share the message is essential to the Air Force's growth."

Everding has accomplished a lot for the short time he's been in the Air Force and he will be taking a much deserved break upon returning stateside.

"I've saved up plenty of leave so I'm going to vacation near my home station, the 91st Air Refueling Squadron, in Tampa, Fla. before I head off to Oklahoma for six months of training for another airframe," Everding said.

After completing his deployment flying the MC-12W he will go on to fly the KC-135 Stratotanker and continue to support operations wherever the mission calls him.

Article by Staff Sgt. Heather Skinkle, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs