Jennifer Gerhardt
Contributing Writer

Long-lasting friendships in the military are special. Though separated by distance and years, friends can pick up right where they left off when they meet again.

That was the case for a pair of U.S. Air Force first lieutenants, Paul and Tristan (last names withheld for deployment security), who met in the Oregon Wing as Civil Air Patrol cadets.

Paul became interested in the organization when he noticed a CAP information booth at an air show. “Flying was what I wanted to do, and CAP looked like the best way to get involved at a young age.”

Tristan was also interested in flying at a young age. He heard about CAP through a friend and decided to go. At his first meeting he met Paul, who taught him facing movements and explained the program’s opportunities and expectations.

“I got very excited about the program, and it started me on a path that made me who I am today,” Tristan said.

Both went on to attend wing encampments as cadets and then return as staff members to help younger cadets. They also attended a 10-day National Flight Academy in Shawnee, Oklahoma, where they received 10 hours of flight instruction in a CAP plane and ground training that included learning about aircraft instruments and weather.

Their love of flying continued after high school. Paul and Tristan wound up attending the Air Force Academy and joining its flying team.

“My involvement in CAP definitely helped me maintain the mindset needed to go to the Air Force Academy and be successful in pilot training,” Paul said. “CAP helped me develop a level of discipline and motivation that naturally lends itself well to a military environment — especially when flying the F-16.”

Once they graduated from the academy, both became pilots in the Air Force.

“While the military is much more complex than I had thought as a young cadet, CAP gave me an opportunity to learn skills and gain life experience that has paid dividends daily in military life,” Tristan said. “CAP provided the opportunity to learn who I wanted to be and how to work with others in a semiprofessional environment.

“It challenged me to improve because of the high expectations these opportunities put on me and because I had people around me focused on my growth and success from start to finish.”

Although becoming pilots in different aircraft meant the friends were stationed in different locations, they met up again thousands of feet in the sky while deployed overseas.

“I knew I was going to be refueling F-16s that day,” said Tristan, who flies the KC-135 out of McConnell Air Force Base, Kansas. “I heard this voice come over the intercom as the F-16 pilot checked in, and it caught my attention instantly. I remember telling the other pilot in my cockpit, ‘there is no way that's who I think it is.’”

“After I hooked up to the boom, the boom operator asks me where I'm from,” said Paul, an F-16 pilot based at Shaw Air Force Base, South Carolina, picking up the story. “I didn't think much of it at the time because we chat with the boomers all the time while we're getting gas, but after I answered the question, he told me that I probably knew the pilot.”

Tristan then asked the boom operator to pass over his old call sign from the Air Force Academy Flying Team.

“The next thing I hear is the boom commenting that Paul, in the F-16, is suddenly bouncing up and down with excitement to the point that his airplane was moving,” Tristan said. “It made my day!”

Tristan’s voice came over the intercom, and the two chatted while finishing the refueling.

“I was in disbelief,” Paul said. “I hadn't talked to him for a while, so it was nice to get the chance under such interesting circumstances halfway around the world.”