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COLUMBUS, Miss. (WCBI) — A new group of student pilots has earned their silver wings.

22 young men and women with Class 14-10 graduated from Columbus Air Force Base’s pilot training program, Friday.

“It’s rewarding,” said 2nd Lt. Patrick Wheble. “A lot of work put in this year, and it’s a great feeling to be finished.”

Retired General Norton Schwartz visited the base to deliver the graduation address. But for the former Air Force chief of staff, the ceremony was personal. He watched his godson, Wheble, follow in his footsteps and receive his silver wings.

“It’s a thrill,” Schwartz said. “These are memories that stay with you forever, and in my case, I remember it like it was yesterday. I hope that today’s graduates, likewise, remember today’s events in a similar fashion.”

Schwartz says the key to success for these airmen is to work hard from day one.

“The advice for these youngsters is to hit the ground running, knowing that the Air Force and the country needs good people to do this work, and we want them to excel at it,” he said.

And though this past year of training has been tough, these new pilots will still have challenges to overcome.

“We are in a post-war circumstance, where resources will be declining, and the consequence of that is that there’s some uncertainty, even for the graduates today, whether their weapons system will remain in service, or be retired, and so on,” Schwartz said.

To get through it, Schwartz says the key is to focus on service – why so many of these young men and women joined the Air Force in the first place.

“Service is really important, and it’s important to give back to your country,” Wheble said. “So many people have given me so much. I think it’s very important that I try to do the same.”

Wheble tells WCBI he leaves for Little Rock, Arkansas, Saturday, where he’ll start six months of training on his new plane, the C-130 Hercules.

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