PEASE AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Nh --
On a rainy September afternoon, pilots from across the country taxied their aircraft through a maze of static displays, in preparation for the Thunder Over New Hampshire Air Show at Pease Air National Guard Base.
The demonstration teams and tanker crews collected soggy welcome packets and departed for their hotels. One A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot climbed out of his fighter jet and paused on the hazy, yet familiar, tarmac.
To Capt. Austin Wallace, a pilot with the 23rd Operations Support Squadron at Moody Air Force Base, Pease is home.
“I’ve walked up and down this ramp a million times as a crew chief,” he said with a smile. “It’s surreal.”
Wallace enlisted at Pease Air National Guard Base in 2012 when he was an 18-year-old senior at York High School, in York, Maine. Six months later he was a crew chief on the wing’s then KC-135 Stratotanker and starting college at the University of New Hampshire.
“I got my degree in political science from UNH while completing the ROTC program and working in the Air National Guard at the same time,” he said. “It was challenging at some points, there always seemed to be one more step in the process, but when I got my commission it was exhilarating.”
Wallace left for pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, a couple months later. He graduated at the top of his classes through each new school, as he worked toward his dream of becoming an A-10 pilot.
“Three weeks prior to graduation, you make a dream sheet of the aircraft you want,” he explained. “Depending on how well you did, you’ll get to get the aircraft you want. A-10 was my number one and I got it. That was a pretty exciting night.”
Staff Sgt. Walter Ramos, a maintenance operations controller with the 157th Maintenance Group, worked as a crew chief with Wallace. The two wingmen also graduated together at UNH.
“He drove me to my first student flight,” Ramos laughed. “It’s absolutely unreal seeing where we all have ended up.”
Ramos also graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science and continued on to law school at UNH. He now works as a prosecutor in Strafford County.
“It feels like we’re all doing big things,” he said. “The A-10 is an amazing weapon system and Austin is a really great guy, so the fact that he gets to fly his dream plane is amazing. I’m really proud of him.”
In the spring of 2020, four years after graduating UNH and parting with the 157th, Wallace deployed to Afghanistan. He said the deployment was the pinnacle of everything he strived to accomplish since enlisting nine years ago.
“It was a humbling moment that felt like all my hard work has paid off,” he said. “You know, being able to taxi back to where I started and see where I’m at now is just surreal. There’s always going to be challenges but getting up to fly every day, it’s a dream. I am so lucky.”