When students from Col. Jack Howell’s Teens-In-Flight program take to the skies, he says, “they’re on cloud nine.”
After 25 years in the Marine Corps, the Life Member of MOAA wanted to give back to the military community. In 2006, he founded Teens-In-Flight to support military children facing challenges related to the deployment or loss of one of their parents.
“I wanted to do something over the top,” said Howell, who served tours in all four of the Marine Corps air wings. “I wanted to get these kids a private pilot’s license for free. I was going to use aviation as a conduit, so that these kids could have a tangible thing in their hands that would push the doors open to aerospace futures.”
The program, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization run out of Palm Coast, Fla., provides flight training to teens from military families, children of first responders, and those who are considered “at risk” or financially underserved within the community. Military teens who lost a family member serving on active duty are given a scholarship for the program; they pay nothing to get their private pilot license.
Teens who graduate from the program have gone on to pursue careers in aviation, some flying for commercial airlines, and some becoming pilots in the military themselves.
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Giovanni “Gigi” Gonzales was one of the first to graduate from the program. She’s now an electronic warfare officer in the EA-18G Growler.
“I would not be where I am today if it were not for the Teens-In-Flight program,” Gonzales said. “It took my love of aviation and made it [grow].”
For Howell, who is a professor at Embry-Riddle University, the process is just as rewarding.
“When I take the kid out flying for the very first time, during the orientation flight I tell them, ‘Grab control of the yoke, and let me show you how to fly this thing,’ ” he said. “And then I look at the Cheshire cat grin.”