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Air Force pilot trainee accepts tennis award, life’s challenges

By 2nd Lt. Robert Guest | Air Education and Training Command Public Affairs | Aug. 23, 2019

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas —

Second Lt. Isaac Perez, a former tennis player at the U.S. Air Force Academy, has been named a 2019 Arthur Ashe Jr. Leadership and Sportsmanship Award recipient by the National Collegiate Athletics Association.

Perez will be presented with the award during the U.S. Open tennis tournament in New York Aug. 24, 2019.

"Isaac was a role-model for my team the day he stepped on our courts and has always displayed the utmost respect and sportsmanship while representing the Academy," said Dan Oosterhous, head men’s tennis coach at the Academy.

In a release announcing his selection, it noted that Perez was a four-year varsity starter at the Academy, finishing his career with a 37-35 singles record and 43-39 mark in doubles play. In addition to his position as team captain and during his senior season, Perez served on the Cadet Wing staff, the highest level of the academy’s chain of command, as a public affairs officer where he became a visible and trusted presence on campus.  He was also the vice commander of the Air Force Summer Sports Camps.

Perez originally intended to apply for a human intelligence officer position in the Air Force, to take advantage of his current dual-language ability—he speaks English and Spanish—and his ethnic appearance. However, Oosterhous would occasionally talk to Perez about his time as a C-5 pilot before he retired from the Air Force.

“Coach was very open to questions about being a pilot and he encouraged us,” Perez said. “He never pushed but he told us that if we wanted a constant challenge, the pilot career field would challenge us every day.”

While his coach spurred Perez’s interest in becoming an aviator, he said his desire to serve as a pilot in the Air Force was solidified through USAFA’s parachuting and powered flight programs.

Originally from San Antonio, Perez was fortunate enough to be selected to attend pilot training in his hometown, and he will begin his time as a student in version three of “Pilot Training Next.” PTN is the Air Force’s experiment-driven pilot training program that falls under Air Education and Training Command’s Detachment 24.

While he awaits the start of his pilot training in January 2020, Perez works as a staff officer and studying aviation in an informal, self-directed way. There is a quiet workspace at Det. 24 where lieutenants awaiting training can study as well as a virtual reality simulator room where they can practice self-guided, virtual flights before their training officially begins.

“I’m open to flying any airframe when I graduate from pilot training,” Perez said. “But I’d like to fly the F-35 Lightning II because of its versatile mission sets.”

The future pilot, who was a two-time recipient of the Coach Gugat "Attitude is Everything" award at the Academy, was humble in accepting the award and hopes people know what the award stands for.

“It’s really not a big deal,” Perez said of receiving the award. “What I really want people to be aware of is the story and meaning behind the award. Ashe was a revolutionary tennis player who showed us how important it is to treat not just other players but everyone with respect, dignity and care.” 

Ashe was the only African American to win the U.S. Open, Australian Open and Wimbledon, according to the International Tennis Hall of Fame’s website. That site also points out that “Ashe was much more than a storied tennis player; he was an activist, author, educator.”

In honor of his achievements in tennis, the main stadium for the U.S. Open is called the Arthur Ashe Stadium. In honor of his life legacy, Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day will be celebrated at the Open August 24 and is the largest grassroots tennis event in the world according to the Arthur Ashe Kids’ Day website.  As part of the weekend’s events, Perez will be volunteering his time during the Arthur Ashe Kids' Day event.

“Challenges drive me,” Perez said. “It is service that makes it all worth it.”