Guard Helicopter Pilot: ‘The Sky Is Actually Not the Limit’

MCALLEN, Texas — In a small barbed-wire enclosed yard in Tamaulipas, Mexico, three hours south of the Texas-Mexico border, 6-year-old Liliana Chavez Uribe marveled at the sight of crop dusters flying over her home and dreamed that one day she, too, could fly.

A short 18 years later, Second Lieutenant (2LT) Liliana Chavez Uribe smiles as she recalls the memory that propelled her forward and ever upward.

“I grew up in a rural area where we didn’t have running water – we had wells,” 2LT Chavez, 24, says. “We had outhouses, so, no toilets, and the first time I saw a shower I was in second or third grade – I grew up in the projects.”

2LT Chavez, now an Aeromedical Evacuation Officer, 2nd Battalion, 149th Aviation Regiment, General Support Aviation Battalion, who flies Black Hawk and Lakota helicopters for the Texas Army National Guard, says her accomplishments are far beyond what her 6-year-old self could have imagined.

“I have been wanting to fly since the first time I saw an airplane, but I kind of put that dream aside, since I thought it was very competitive. It was like dreaming to be a movie star ­– you put it aside because you think it will never happen.”

Despite the obstacles she and her family endured as immigrants during their journey, 2LT Chavez realized her dreams were more of a reality than she thought.

“I came here as a permanent resident,” she says. “My dad worked his butt off to get us all here the correct, legal way, and now I am a citizen.”

It was during her high school years in Pharr, Texas, that 2LT Chavez discovered her love for the disciplined military structure when she joined the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps.

She graduated fifth in her high school class with an associate degree under her belt and landed a two-year Texas Armed Services scholarship to the University of Texas Pan-American, where she joined the Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) and studied biology.

“In ROTC I got the opportunity to go up for the aviation board,” 2LT Chavez says. “I put in the packet, took a physical fitness test, went before a whole bunch of important people and was selected.”

She graduated flight school and Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. SERE is a requirement for all pilots and U.S. Special Forces that tests participants’ mental and physical fortitude to prepare them to evade capture and survive extreme conditions and unforgiving elements.

Fighting ‘Lowest Moment’ with Laughter 

2LT Chavez says that SERE training was the most challenging experience she has faced in her life.

“My lowest moment (during the training), I can’t say it, but it was really, really low,” she says. “But I started laughing, even though there were tears coming out of my eyes. It was tough, but I always had a positive attitude. I tried to sing and make something positive out of a crappy situation.”

2LT Chavez credits her father’s work ethic as the reason she is so driven to overcome the multitude of challenges she faced during SERE training.

“My dad, he is really motivating. He works in construction, in roofing. He would come back home just burned and blistered – every day, non-stop, and he never complained.”

‘I Embrace Every Stereotype’ 

2LT Chavez remembers being one of three women, and the only Hispanic woman, in her flight school class.

“There is a challenge in being a Hispanic woman and being a minority – that’s two things,” she says. “But now, I think it’s a great thing, because we can actually go all the way to the top.”

The pilot says that she overcomes discrimination the same way that she conquered her challenges during SERE training – with a splash of humor.

“I just play along with it, and I say ‘so what? I don’t care, I’ll make you tacos right now,’” 2LT Chavez says. “I’ll prove a point, I’m Mexican, I’ll braid my hair. I embrace every stereotype, and I think that’s the way to do it instead of being thin-skinned.”

Regardless of all the obstacles she has faced, whether it was getting through college, financial setbacks, discrimination, or SERE, 2LT Chavez never saw failure as an option.

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe

2LT Liliana Chavez Uribe, Texas Army National Guard

“My main drive was not to disappoint my father. I wanted to finish school and do amazing things for myself and him, also. I want to eventually pay him back for all he has done for us.”

2LT Chavez, a lean five-and-a-half-feet tall, walks ruler-straight and with purpose, radiating positivity while also having a steadfast command presence.

“The leader I hope to be – I expect to touch many, many lives,” she says. “I am already a joyful leader, always looking at the positive side. I am always smiling. I don’t want to be bitter. If you aren’t happy and have a moody face that is contagious.”

 ‘I Want to Fly it All’

When 2LT Chavez talks about her job and flying, her face lights up, and her voice exudes an energetic tone which proves that long after achieving her dream of flying, she is still filled with the same wonder and awe she had watching the crop dusters as a young girl.

“I want to fly a fixed wing. I want to fly it all (all aircraft),” she said.

The pilot reflected upon where she would be in life had her father not moved their family to the United States.

“I would be living a sad life, probably with like, five kids, not in school, not educated or maybe something even worse – just the way stuff is down there.”

Her father, Silvano Chavez, disagrees.

“If we hadn’t come here, nothing would be different,” Chavez said. “Liliana serves as an example that if you work hard and persevere you can get to where you want to be, and if Lily were in Mexico, she would move somewhere else and still succeed because that is the way she is.”

Many Dreams Left to Fulfill

Although she has reached what her family and many people would see as the pinnacle of success, 2LT Chavez says she still has many dreams to fulfill.

“My other plan is to go back to school for earth and coastal sciences, diving and studying earth forms. I want to be an astronaut, too, one day.”

Chavez has a message for other girls who have big “movie star dreams” like hers.

“I’d tell them don’t limit yourself, the sky is actually not the limit – you can be an astronaut if you want to.”

So, if you’re ready to test your limits, the Army National Guard offers plenty of options, right in your own community, where you’ll maintain your military training on a part-time basis. This flexibility gives you time to pursue a civilian career, too, which can be accomplished a lot easier when you take advantage of the Guard’s education benefits

Check out our job board, which can be searched by location or the type of career you’re interested in, from aviation to armor and field artillery, to military police, logistics support, and more. For personalized advice, contact your local recruiter.

From an original story by 1LT Nadine Wiley De Moura, 100th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment, which appeared in the news section of NationalGuard.mil, in May 2018.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

Welcome to On Your Guard

Army National Guard Soldiers

No matter how you found us online, whether you’re just curious about what the Army National Guard does, or you’re thinking about joining the military, we’d love for you to stick around. We’ve got some stories to tell, straight from the men and women who serve their communities and their Nation in this unique capacity.

Guard Soldiers come from all walks of life. They serve, part-time, in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, plus three U.S. Territories. Some join because of their deep sense of patriotism, their love for adventure, or as a means to pay for college or get training in one of 150 different career fields – all of which can be explored on our job board.

If there’s one theme that stands out from talking with Soldiers in this blog over the years, it’s that what Soldiers find is so much more than what they were looking for from the Army National Guard experience in the first place. For example:

      • The training you’ll get often translates directly to a civilian career, plus the Guard’s generous tuition assistance programs will help you earn a degree without going into major debt.
      • You’ll be tested mentally and physically, and find out you can do more than you thought possible. Plus, there’s a whole team behind you who won’t let you give up.
      • There’s nothing more rewarding than helping your neighbors or your Nation when they need you most.

So stay tuned to On Your Guard for stories about Soldiers’ journeys. The next chapter in your story could start with the Army National Guard.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter

The Top 5 Reasons to Join the Army National Guard

On Your Guard sat down with Staff Sergeant (SSG) Mike Schriefer to talk about why people join the Army National Guard. We thought who better to ask than a recruiter, who’s also had a few different jobs in his nearly 14 years of service with the Guard. SSG Schriefer, who also served in the Active Duty Army, breaks down his top 5 reasons to join this branch of the U.S. military where Soldiers serve on a part-time basis. 

1. Education Benefits

SSG Schriefer says comparing the Guard’s education benefits to Active Duty’s education benefits is like comparing apples to oranges.

Active Duty components of the military receive only Federal benefits. Because the Guard’s primary mission is to serve the State and its governor, and its secondary mission is to serve the country, he explains, Soldiers are entitled to both State and Federal education benefits.

“It’s like having two Christmases,” he says.

So in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, where SSG Schriefer is a member, a Soldier can participate in a full-time degree program and receive either 100% tuition assistance for a state school or $3,619 per semester to other Pennsylvania schools, including private colleges, and technical and trade schools. It’s important to note that each State has its own policies in place.

That State benefit can also be combined with a Federal benefit like Federal tuition assistance to the tune of $4,000 a year for Soldiers who have completed one year of service after their graduation from Advanced Individual Training.

Yet another Federal benefit can pick up the tab for other expenses associated with going to college.

“Every Soldier who enlists gets the GI Bill, Select Reserve, which, while they’re enrolled in school 8-9 months out of the year, they get another $368 a month, tax-free, that goes directly to them that they can use for books, room/board, food, anything that they need,” says SSG Schriefer.

And, Soldiers who’ve already completed some or all of their education can be eligible for the Student Loan Repayment Program, which will pay up to $50,000 of student loan debt.

2. Job Training and Transferable Skills

When you join the Guard, you’ll get job training, too, in what is called your MOS, or Military Occupational Specialty. Your MOS may or may not line up with your educational pursuits or your civilian career. It can also change over time.

SSG Schriefer says these MOSs are always hot for new recruits in his State: 68W Healthcare Specialist, 31B Military Police, 11B Infantryman, and 19D Calvary Scout.

Many MOSs have direct counterparts in the civilian job market. The 68W MOS, for example, lends itself to working as an EMT in the civilian world. One of the questions SSG Schriefer gets is how Soldiers in combat arms MOSs like infantry and field artillery can transfer their skills to the workforce.

“They learn the invaluable skill of teamwork,” he says. “When you have to ensure 100% safety on firing a 155-mm explosive round downrange, you have to have flawless, seamless teamwork.”

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

SSG Mike Schriefer of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard.

Other skills: “You will also learn to work under pressure, critical thinking, dedication, and priceless leadership skills that are coveted by employers,” SSG Schriefer says. “Reliability, dependability, integrity – all those things, when you go to apply for a job, are going to make you shine over a regular civilian candidate.”

To help recruits decide on an MOS – there are 150 of them – SSG Schriefer asks them what they want to do and then directs them to NationalGuard.com to research MOS choices and check the qualifications.

Another helpful tool is the ASVAB (Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery) test, which determines which MOSs recruits are eligible for based on their scores.

Changing one’s MOS is also possible, says SSG Schriefer, but not likely during a Soldier’s initial enlistment.

“The best time for them to change their MOS is when they come up for their first contract extension,” he says. “But, it never hurts to ask if you’re a stellar Soldier and you’re doing really good things.”

SSG Schriefer himself has been a 25U Signal Support Systems Specialist, 92Y Unit Supply Specialist, and a 74D Chemical Operations Specialist, all before becoming a recruiter.

3. Adventure: Finding Out You Can Do More Than You Could Have Imagined

SSG Schriefer says he was a tall, skinny kid who had played sports in high school, but, “I didn’t know how far I could physically go until Basic Training. I never knew I could run that fast, or carry a rucksack with 50 pounds in it for 12 miles. Mentally, I thought I’d never be able to make it through the gas chamber.”

At Basic, recruits can expect to do some rappelling. However, jumping out of airplanes at Airborne School and rappelling from helicopters at Air Assault School are reserved for select Soldiers.

“That’s used as an incentive. If you’re the stellar Soldier in the Unit, we’ll put you in for those schools,” says SSG Schriefer.

4. Being Part of Something Bigger Than Yourself

SSG Schriefer likes that his job is about serving the citizens of Pennsylvania.

“Our first responsibility is to take care of the people we live around, so that gives you a sense of pride,” he says. “The ability to give back to the community and share what the Guard has done for me on a daily basis is a great feeling.”

Another great feeling happens every time he arrives at drill weekend once a month. Patriotism, he says, can be seen and felt all around.

“All you have to do is look at the cars in the parking lot with flags, stickers, license plates and you see that these kids love their service, their country and love being in the military.”

This helps develop the sense of camaraderie for the less than 1 percent of the population who serve in the military.

“No one will ever know how we think, feel, act, or process things unless they have been in our shoes. That’s what creates the brotherhood,” he says.

5. Service to your Community, State, and Country (Which No Other Service Can Offer)

The idea of serving a dual mission to State and Nation is unique to the National Guard.

And while SSG Schriefer has served on just one deployment in service to the country – to Kosovo – he’s had many opportunities to help out on State missions, too, like flooding from Hurricane Sandy and delivering meals to motorists stranded by snowstorms.

But he’s found that his most fulfilling mission is in his role as a recruiter, “being able to be on the ground floor, being the first person and the first interaction with the military most people have, and being able to set them on a path of success, it shutters everything else out.”

So, if you’re ready to see how far you can take your career, especially when you don’t have to worry about paying for college, and you want to be part of a team that’s dedicated to protecting the community and the Nation, consider joining the Army National Guard. Explore our job board for information about each MOS, and contact your local recruiter for personalized advice.

Share on FacebookShare on Twitter