While some high school students spent their summer break working as lifeguards or hanging out with friends, Cadet Airman 1st Class Xitlali Vazquez of the Arizona Wing took on a more challenging opportunity.
The Deer Valley Composite Squadron cadet completed an intensive eight-week U.S. Navy Summer Flight Academy aviation program at Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, North Carolina.
On July 13, she flew her first solo flight and went on to complete 68 hours of flying, including a solo cross-country flight. Vazquez completed the flight academy program at the end of July and earned six hours of college credit in the process, but because of weather and some COVID-19 cases among the students, she ended up 1.3 hours short of the number of solo hours required to take the Federal Aviation Administration check ride.
Vazquez was one of 20 high-performing 11th- and 12th-graders – and the only one in CAP – from throughout the country selected for the program, established in 2021 by the commander, Naval Air Forces, to increase diversity in the field of aviation.
Vazquez joined CAP in November 2021. Second Lt. Patrick Sliney, the Deer Valley squadron’s deputy commander for cadets, called her “a sharp cadet with excellent customs and courtesies.”
CAP is only part of her story. Vazquez also participates in the Navy Junior ROTC program at Greenway High School in Phoenix, which is what led her to the scholarship to pursue her aviation dreams.
On her application for the program, Vazquez was asked to describe a challenge she had overcome.
“She wrote that while her family was supportive of her aviation dreams, a lot of her friends told her this just wasn’t attainable,” said Lt. Olivia Barrau, commander Naval Air Forces diversity, equity, and inclusion operations officer. “That fired her up, and she went after this scholarship program to prove that she could reach her goals.”
Consideration for the program required a strong recommendation from the naval science instructor at her school, outstanding academic achievement, and a demonstration of diverse interests, which Vazquez met through a range of extracurricular activities including Best Buddies, Young Aviators, Youth Alive, and on a more artistic side, the Fashion Club. She also competes in track and field and plays on the badminton team.
“We value team experience and place a lot of value on the whole person and people who are excelling in many areas, because that’s an indicator of their potential to perform in an aircraft,” said Deborah Croft, Naval Air Forces deputy director for diversity, equity, and inclusion. “We like to see students who are able to work well with others and have demonstrated success in leadership roles.”
The Department of the Navy sponsors the program for students participating in Navy and Marine Corps Junior ROTC. The program is a new science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) initiative selected for funding by the Naval STEM Coordination Office – located at the Office of Naval Research – which oversees investments in STEM education, outreach, and workforce initiatives.
“The primary goal of the scholarship program is to expose exceptional minority students to a career path that currently lacks diversity,” says Cmdr. Chris Williams, a Navy fighter pilot, instructor, and director of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“These 20 students have what it takes to be leaders in the field of aviation, and the Navy is honored to play a part in their personal and professional journey.”
During the eight-week Flight Academy, each student received a minimum of 32 hours of classroom aviation academics and 49 hours of flight training in either a Vulcanair V.10 single-engine aircraft or Piper Warrior (PA-28).
Maj. Margot Myers
Public Affairs Officer