Flying High

May 20, 2012

By Matt Winkeljohn

Sting Daily

Chandler Anderson has little choice these days but to make keen use of his time. There’s not a lot of it leftover when in Combat Systems Officer training in the Air Force, and no, when that rare relief comes, the would-be navigators/pilots do not get to use the jets in which they train.

The folks in the USAF are not keen on granting time off from training, so when the former Georgia Tech punter asked a couple months ago for a few hours to zip northward from Pensacola, Fla., to his hometown of Columbus, Ga., and then further north to Cumming, his commanding officer was not amused.

At least not at first. Then, then man smiled.

“When I went and asked he said, ‘We told you all you’re not supposed to do this,’ ” Anderson said. “We’re not supposed to take leave. When he asked why, I said, ‘Well, I’ve been planning this for a long time, and I really want to propose to my girlfriend.’ He said, ‘Speak no more; just be back by Sunday night.’ “

So Anderson had about a day to high-tail it over land. The T-6 trainer that he’s been flying recently would stay behind. He got behind the wheel and broke out as if on fire.

He had a little more than a day’s time to take care of business. March 24, a Saturday, would be that day. “I stopped in Columbus and said hi to my folks, and then went straight to Cumming,” recalled the erstwhile booter.

There, he connected again with Katelyn Lebeda, the Kennesaw State student he met while still playing football for Tech. And, he proposed. It took, too.

“It worked out great because I had my family come up, and her family was there and we went to dinner,” Anderson said. “Then, I got up real early and had to head back.”

As a punter, Anderson was third in the ACC with a 42.3-yard average as a red-shirt sophomore in 2009. He graduated with a degree in Business Administration in Dec., 2011, one day after he was commissioned into the Air Force.

My, how time has flown since.

After reporting on Jan. 3, his Initial Flight Screening was in Pueblo, Colo., where he spent some time flying a DA 20 similar to the plane that he worked in for a while at Peachtree-DeKalb airport while still at Tech as a member of the ROTC.

School wasn’t over, either, as a couple months worth of academics were involved.

For the past two weeks and for the next six or so, he’ll continue learning his way around in the T-6, which is a turbo prop craft, out of the Naval Air Station Pensacola.

After that will come the advanced phase. Anderson will spend time in, “a big jet,” or a T-1. Nearly half a year of classwork will piggyback that work.

So what is a Combat Systems Officer? According to Wikipedia, a CSO is, “an aeronautically-rated officer in the U.S. Air Force having been previously known by the title, ‘Navigator.’ CSOs are responsible for in-flight air operations and aircraft mission/weapon systems.”

If all goes as planned, Anderson will earn his wings next March, and be married that same month. Although he’s not certain, there’s a good chance that he’ll spend some time as a flight instructor before choosing what aircraft he’d like to work in long-term. Then, he’d spend more time training in that craft before becoming operational and deploying.

“My stepfather and my grandfather are retired military, and my grandfather was in the Air Force,” Anderson said. “And my brother was in the Air Force ROTC at Valdosta State, and I kept thinking about it, especially with the opportunities at Georgia Tech.

“The ROTC program there is amazing, and I signed up and really liked it. When I got a flying spot, I went from there. It’s been fantastic.”

Seems pretty clear that Anderson is comfortable with the decisions that he’s made, right? Comments to stingdaily@gmail.com.

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