The sun rose over Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., and aircraft began departing for the Air force’s annual green flag exercises.
After several early morning hours of prepping information for various operations, intelligence officer and then lieutenant, Richard Bergeron, took in the scene from the ramp. Despite years of service and accomplishment, one very important goal eluded him: earning the coveted wings of an Air Force aviator.
In 2008, less than 10 years prior to his commissioning, Bergeron enlisted in the Air Force as a cryptologic language analyst. During basic training he was assigned to learn Korean and spent two years at the Defense Language Institute developing proficiency. This was coupled with the completion of enlisted intelligence training at Goodfellow AFB in San Angelo, Texas. Following training, he spent four years at Osan Air Base, South Korea, assigned to the 303rd Intelligence Squadron and two years with the 94th Intelligence Squadron out of Fort Meade, Md.
During his enlistment, Bergeron fulfilled the prerequisites to apply for officer training school with the hope of pursuing his dream of flying for the Air Force. As a technical sergeant in 2015 he applied not only for OTS, but for the rated career field board with the intention of pursuing an aviation-related job.
“I wanted the extra responsibility, the leadership role, and I wanted to broaden my horizons,” Bergeron said.
Because he was 29, Bergeron exceeded the age requirement to begin his career in a rated field. Despite this, he decided he still wanted to try to earn a commission and chose to build off of his enlisted experience and become an intelligence officer.
Upon completion of OTS and the officer intelligence training course at Goodfellow AFB, Second Lieutenant Bergeron was given a rare assignment for a new intelligence officer — working at Air Force’s green flag exercises at Nellis AFB in Las Vegas, Nev. Green flag is a combat training exercise that joins Air Force and allied airpower along with Army combat units.
Around six months into his duty rotation at Nellis, another opportunity came for him to become an applicant for a flying-related job in the Air Force.
“I had told people of my want to become a pilot so it was known in the squadron,” said Bergeron “I was sent an email that told me to look into the undergraduate flying training board, which is a board that can select you for all of the available rated positions.” To be eligible for this board he would need two waivers: one for his age and another for the outstanding service commitment he stilled owed as an intelligence officer. The first was approved, the second was not.
Lt. Col. Adam Markel, a seasoned F-16 fighter pilot, took command of the squadron that Bergeron was in at Nellis shortly after his arrival.
Markel told Bergeron that he was not selected by the rated board due to the disapproved service commitment waiver.
“I had my squadron fill out career goal sheets,” Markel said. “This was how I knew his goal was to become rated.”
After becoming familiar with Bergeron’s career, Markel reached out to the rated boards explaining the extent of Bergeron’s background. He argued that Bergeron’s intelligence experience and ability to contribute would not be lost as a result of a career change to a non-intelligence-related job.
“He [Markel] was proactive,” Bergeron said, “he knew my background and that I had done almost ten years in the intel field already, and was able to clarify and convince that my intel training did go to use.”
A year later, Bergeron was again in pursuit of a pilot slot selection. This time, he was required to have a recommendation from a general officer, in addition to the service commitment waiver.
The age waiver was no longer required because the Air Force increased the age limit.
After obtaining a general officer’s recommendation and having no waiver holds, the third time was indeed the charm. He was selected to attend Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance AFB in Enid, Okla., which also happened to be where Markel completed his pilot training.
“In terms of my ability to fly the airplane, I was on the exact same playing field as everyone else,” he said, “but it was my fourth total year in the Air Education and Training Command as a student so I had more of an understanding of “how you are instructed as a student is a product of the school.”
His training spanned about a year and he performed well enough to “track select” the T-38 Talon II, which would set him up for a fighter/bomber-based aircraft assignment following UPT. In turn, this allowed him to be assigned to one of the most infamous attack aircraft in Air Force history, the A-10 Thunderbolt II or the Warthog.
Shortly after receiving his assignment, he graduated with his pilot training class 20-22 in September of this year and was moved to Sheppard to continue flying the T-38 to complete the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals course. Upon graduation of IFF, which is projected for mid-December, a transition to the A-10 will follow.
This is now where Captain Bergeron is in his Air Force journey. It also happens to be where Lt. Col. Markel is stationed as an IFF Instructor Pilot. This opportunity allowed them to fly against one another on a training mission.
“It’s still work and we’re professional,” said Markel. “But it’s very rewarding [to fly with Bergeron] and it’s three years in the making.”
Markel exemplified that when you set specific goals and work with persistence, anything can be accomplished.
Coming up on almost 13 years of service, Bergeron reflects on his time spent in the military.
“I’m going to keep doing it until it’s not fun, and it hasn’t stopped being fun yet,” he said.
If and when Bergeron returns to Nellis as a part of an operational flying squadron, instead of looking up at the aircraft taking off into the sky and wondering if that could or would ever be him, he’ll be looking down with his dream fulfilled.