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NEWS | July 26, 2010

Navigator steps outside 'comfort zone' to join USAF Honor Guard

By Robert Goetz 502nd Air Base Wing OL-B Public Affairs

The 12th Flying Training Wing's chief of inspections said one of his most fulfilling roles in the Air Force so far has been helping students prepare to become combat systems officers as an instructor and flight commander at the 562nd Flying Training Squadron.

Now he'll have an opportunity to expand his leadership skills at a unit whose mission is to represent Airmen to the American public and the world.

Maj. John Pilong, who has been assigned to Randolph for the past four years, has been selected as director of operations for the U.S. Air Force Honor Guard at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C. He will begin his duties in October.

"I'm looking forward to the challenge," he said. "It will be different for me because I've been flying for 13 years. It's stepping outside my comfort zone, but it's also an outstanding opportunity to be a leader."

Major Pilong said the job itself - managing day-to-day operations and playing a key role in the long-term planning process - will also be a challenge.

"I'll be leading a group of 18- to 20-year-olds up to senior NCOs," he said.

The honor guard, which comprises more than 200 ceremonial guardsmen and support personnel, consists of three ceremonial flights - the colors, body bearers and firing party - who perform an average of 10 ceremonies per day. The organization also operates the drill team, the organization's traveling component, which tours Air Force bases worldwide and participates in events in the civilian community, and provides training for base-level honor guards.

Major Pilong said the honor guard differs from other military units in its emphasis on presentation.

"Part of being in the military is how you present yourself, but not everybody has that as their primary job," he said. "That's what the honor guard does. Their job is to be the Air Force."

A trait that aircrews and honor guards, especially drill teams, share is precision, Major Pilong said. A mistake by an aircrew or drill team member can prove deadly.

"Precision is a common theme for aircrews and honor guards," he said.

Major Pilong said he, his wife, Lauren, and their daughter Isabel, 2, are looking forward to being closer to family. His parents and one of his brothers live an hour west of Washington, D.C., in Winchester, Va., while his other brother lives in Delaware. He also has six sisters who live all over the U.S.

The New Jersey native graduated from Rutgers University, where he completed the Reserve Officers' Training Corps program. After finishing navigator training at Randolph in 1998, he served tours of duty at McChord AFB, Wash., and Robins AFB, Ga. Major Pilong came back to Randolph in 2006, serving as a flight commander and assistant director of operations at the 12th Operations Support Squadron before moving on to wing-level leadership. One of his achievements since returning to Randolph has been earning a master's degree in leadership.

"I'm looking forward to putting those skills to good use," he said. "I feel like I'm prepared; God has always made sure I'm ready. The challenge is finding what motivates people. You have to find what works for them."