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Alumni Feature

Each quarter we will feature a story about our Parchment alumni here.

By Dave Person

Eric and Nicole Mott | Parchment Panther Press Alumni FeatureWhen Eric Mott graduated from Parchment High School in 2007 his future was up in the air.

The same was true for his sister, Nicole, when she graduated two years later.

But for both of them, "up in the air" could be taken literally. The siblings have followed childhood dreams of becoming pilots, Eric in the Navy and Nicole both as a civilian flying commercial jets and in the Air Force Reserve.

"It was something I kind of had in the back of my head ever since I was young," Eric says. "I always thought it would be so cool to be a fighter pilot."

While that's not exactly how it turned out, Eric, 29, is enjoying his assignment as a Naval helicopter pilot.

After graduating from Parchment, Eric went to Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, from which he graduated with a degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering in 2011. A year later he earned a master's degree, also from Case Western, in engineering and management.

But flying wasn't yet on the radar. In fact, his career was taking him in a different direction.

As an undergraduate, Eric had been working in a research lab in the Case Western neurological surgery department, and after getting his master's degree he was hired as lab manager.

By that time, Nicole was well into her training for a career as a civilian pilot and Eric, who was looking at career options, applied for and was accepted into the Air Force officer training program.

"When I found out it was an eight-year commitment," he says, "I just got cold feet and walked away."

Then when his boss at Case Western moved to The Ohio State University, Eric went with him to set up the laboratory, which specialized in bone tissue engineering, at that location.

"It was down there where I decided to join the Navy," he says. "I did my recruitment out of Columbus and went to Officer Candidate School in March 2015.

Upon graduating from OCS three months later, Eric was sent to Milton Naval Air Station in Florida for the ground-school portion of his flight training. He left there in January 2016 for Corpus Christi, Texas, and primary flight school, piloting a T-6 Bravo Texan II.

When he graduated from there in October 2016, the Navy selected Eric to fly helicopters and he returned to Milton Naval Air Station for advanced training on a TH-57. On August 11, 2017, he earned his naval aviator wings and was selected to fly the MH-53 Echo Sea Dragon.

That took him to Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia, where he is currently training with the Fleet Replacement Squadron, HM-12 Sea Dragons.

"The whole mission of my helicopter is airborne mine countermeasures," Eric says. "It is designed to pull different gear through the water to sweep mines."

Once he is done with training, Eric will be part of the HM-15 Blackhawk Squadron stationed in Bahrain. His commitment to the Navy is until 2025.

"It's definitely fun and challenging at the same time," he says of the Navy. Currently a lieutenant junior grade, Eric says he will become a lieutenant, equivalent to captain in other branches of the service, in June.

Recalling high school and the experiences that helped him prepare for the Navy, Eric ranks marching band at the top of his list.

"When you go to Officer Candidate School you do a lot of marching, and it helps teach you that discipline," he says.

Playing soccer and skiing while in high school also helped him understand the importance of staying in shape. Being a member of the Kalamazoo Area Math and Science Center was an academic boost for him, he says.

Flying has been at the forefront of Nicole's plans since she was in high school at Parchment, and she cites the aviation program of her Education for Employment experience with solidifying her interest.

"Right after graduation I started flying in between high school and college and got my private pilot's license before I went to college," she says.

She started out at Lewis University in Illinois, but found "it was too small for me," so she transferred to Western Michigan University in her sophomore year, graduating in 2012 with a degree in aviation flight science and minor in Mandarin Chinese.

Before graduation, however, she went to Fort Collins, Colo., where she earned a flight instructor certificate, which allowed her to teach flying for a couple of semesters before she graduated from WMU.

Nicole's goal from there was to get a job with an airline, but WMU graduates typically have 250 hours of flight time and airlines require at least 1,500 flight hours.

"I instructed for a little bit longer and then I decided Michigan weather wasn t the greatest for (getting) flight time," she says.

So she moved to Texas, met the airlines' flight-time requirements in the next year and applied with Envoy Air Inc., formerly American Eagle, out of Fort Worth, Texas. She was hired and became a first officer, based out of LaGuardia Airport in New York and flying a CRJ700.

Soon, she ended up back in Texas, as first officer on an ERJ145.

"(Then) I got hired as a pilot recruiter," she says. "I got to work with all the new hires and I got to do some of the hiring." That brought her back to WMU on occasion to do recruiting.

In October 2017, she went to pilot upgrade training.

"I got to meet a lot of military members ... and talking to them and the experiences that they had kind of triggered an idea for me, because I didn t know you could do a civilian job and a military job.

"I always wanted to join the military, but my career never led me in that direction. Within a matter of weeks I had made up my mind that I wanted to (join) the Air Force."

She took an officer test and passed, and then applied to the Air Force Reserve. "A couple of weeks later they called me and extended an offer," she says. She was assigned for training at McGuire Air Force Base in New Jersey as part of the 78th Squadron.

"That whole thing kind of happened within a period of two months," she says. "That whole time I was in upgrade, trying with Envoy for captain."

Upgraded to captain, she flew an ERJ175, based out of Chicago, for a few months until she got her training dates with the Air Force.

She went through officer training last summer, graduating from Officer Training School in Montgomery, Ala., on Aug. 19, and then proceeding to pilot training at Vance Air Force Base in Oklahoma, which will conclude in August of this year.

"Right now I'm flying a T-6 Texan. It's kind of like their basic training. It's a two-seater, so it pretty much brings me back to basics again," she says. "Then I'll transition over to another aircraft, a small jet."

After that she will begin flying with a crew in a T-1 Jayhawk.

Her rank in the Reserve is second lieutenant, which is standard for the first two years.

Once she's completed training in August, Nicole will return to McGuire where she will fly a KC-10 Extender, which refuels tankers.

"It's a big jet, which is what I wanted to fly," she says. "Eric went active duty and they had to compete for first pick of what they wanted to do. For me, I actually got to choose, which was really cool."

Once she is done with her full-time commitment in the Reserve, Nicole plans to return to being a civilian pilot, still as a captain.

"I am on the younger side of the captain group, and then being a female, I wasn't sure how they (older, male pilots) would react," says Nicole, 27. "But everyone I have worked with has been really, really great."

Nicole is thankful for her Education for Employment experience while in high school, and the support all of her Parchment teachers gave her during that time.

"There were a few teachers who inspired you to do whatever you wanted to do," she says, citing the teaching team of Anne Nower and Jennifer Barker at Parchment Middle School.

"They were great," she says.

Nicole says a highlight of her career has been finding out she could have both a civilian job and be a member of the military at the same time.

"When I found out I could do both, there wasn't even a thought (not to) in my mind. It was like, 'Cool, sign me up.'"

As a result, she has found a proper mix of what she has always wanted to do.

"I couldn't really imagine doing anything else," she says.