A tank outside the Kenai Readiness Center for the Alaska Army National Guard sits with a covering of snow on Friday. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

A tank outside the Kenai Readiness Center for the Alaska Army National Guard sits with a covering of snow on Friday. (Photo by Brian Mazurek/Peninsula Clarion)

National Guard reaches out to high school and college graduates with pilot training and student loan debt repayment

The Alaska Army National Guard has rolled out a new recruitment program for aspiring helicopter pilots. The program, dubbed “Street to Seat,” gives high school graduates the chance to undergo helicopter pilot training as part of their regular enlistment process.

Participants go directly to flight school after finishing their basic training and officer candidacy school, with the whole process taking about 18 months. The program requires an eight-year commitment to the armed services compared to the standard four-year commitment associated with enlistment.

With the recent addition of two new helicopter frames, the Alaska National Guard offers training for the operation of the UH-60 Black Hawk, the H-47 Chinook, and the UH-72 Lakota model helicopters.

Sgt. 1st Class Christopher Russell, who is the head of recruiting and retention for the Kenai Peninsula, Kodiak and Unalaska, said the time between flying the training helicopters and flying the models used in active service is relatively short.

“Basically it’s like learning how to drive, and then being put in a sports car,” Russell said.

Each helicopter is manned by a pilot and copilot, with the Lakota and Chinook models requiring several additional crew members. The Alaska National Guard currently has six pilot slots open and nine slots for crew chiefs and medics.

The helicopters are used for a wide array of missions, including search and rescue and heavy equipment transport. The National Guard and their Chinook helicopter pilots also assist the National Parks Service in delivering supplies to the base camp of Denali every year, Russell said.

Russell says that the Alaska National Guard is looking to help give young professionals and students the tools to secure a future for themselves, which is why they have begun promoting these programs across the state.

The National Guard offers a program that repays the federal student loans of recent college graduates upon enlistment, up to $50,000. For about 83 percent of debt holders, this would cover their entire outstanding balance. The program does not cover private loans and requires a score of 50 or higher on the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery.

According to estimates from the Professional Helicopter Pilot’s Association, becoming a commercial helicopter pilot can cost between $10,000 and $15,000.

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