EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — (This feature is part of the “Through Airmen’s Eyes” series. These stories focus on individual Airmen, highlighting their Air Force story.)
An Airman’s cell phone rings, but he doesn’t answer because for him personal calls can wait until after work. It rings again; he lets it go to voicemail. On the third call he finally answers and is shocked to discover Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on the line.
During the call, Senior Airman Markese Buckholtz, the 58th Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager, learned he would become an officer through the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program, putting him on track to become a “Mustang,” an enlisted member who commissions into the officer corps.
“(Gen. Welsh) asked me if I still wanted to be an officer and a pilot, and I immediately answered, ‘yes sir,’” Buckholtz said. “He explained to me that I was his nomination (for the program) and that he wanted me to keep exceling as I moved forward in the Air Force.”
SLECP is an Air Force program designed to provide the opportunity for senior leaders to select exceptional members from the enlisted tier to attend an accredited college while on active-duty status. Program participants are required to complete a degree within three years before attending Officer Training School to earn their commission.
Last year, Buckholtz represented his career field when Welsh visited the 33rd Fighter Wing, which gave him the opportunity to share with the general his desire to commission and his struggle to find the right program.
The two-year Airman explained that he was looking for a program that would allow him to keep his wife and two children financially stable while he commissioned.
Welsh recommended Buckholtz investigate the Air Force’s newest commissioning program as an alternative solution.
To be competitive for SLECP, an individual must be enlisted and a U.S. citizen between the ages of 18 and 35. They must also have completed 24 semester hours by the end of the selection window. The school of choice must be associated or affiliated with a ROTC program for accountability and administrative oversight.
Buckholtz’s supervisor, Master Sgt. Latoya Cleveland, the 58th FS superintendent, said his character, work ethic and exemplary records made him a perfect candidate for the program.
“Senior Airman Buckholtz is a stellar Airman who truly embodies the Air Force’s core values,” Cleveland said. “I have no doubt that the next chapter of his life will further mold him into becoming a phenomenal Airman.”
More than a year since his first talk with the general, Buckholtz is on track to become an officer.
In August, he and his family will move to Prescott, Arizona, where he’ll begin classes at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where he previously received an associate’s degree.
Although he admits the idea of moving west with his family is nerve-racking, the soon-to-be Mustang said he is ultimately excited to start the program.
“It feels amazing and almost unreal,” Buckholtz said. “I hope this program will allow me to fly the mighty F-35 (Lightning II) one day. However, no matter what happens down the line, I will be excited to serve as an officer in the United States Air Force.”