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An Airman’s cell phone rings, but he doesn’t answer. For him, personal calls can wait until after work. It rings again; he lets it go to voicemail. On the third call he finally answers — he’s shocked to discover Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Mark A. Welsh III on the line.

During the call, Senior Airman Markese Buckholtz, the 58th Fighter Squadron aviation resource manager here at Eglin, learned he would become an officer through the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program, putting him on track to become a “Mustang,” an enlisted member who commissions into the officer corps.

“Gen. Welsh asked me if I still wanted to be an officer and a pilot, and I immediately answered, ‘yes sir,’” said Buckholtz. “He explained to me that I was his nomination for the program and that he wanted me to keep excelling as I moved forward in the Air Force.”

The unique commissioning program is designed to provide the opportunity for senior leaders to select exceptional members from the enlisted tier to attend an accredited college while on active-duty status. Program participants are required to complete a degree within three years before attending Officer Training School to earn their commission.

Last year, Buckholtz represented his career field when Welsh visited the 33rd Fighter Wing, which gave him the opportunity to share his desire to commission and his struggle to find the right program with the general.

Senior Airman Markese Buckholtz sits at his desk at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Buckholtz will be attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., as part of the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program. (Senior Airman Andrea Posey/Special to The Pulse)

Senior Airman Markese Buckholtz sits at his desk at Eglin Air Force Base, Fla. Buckholtz will be attending Embry Riddle Aeronautical University in Prescott, Ariz., as part of the Senior Leader Enlisted Commissioning Program. (Senior Airman Andrea Posey/Special to The Pulse)

The two-year Airman explained that he was looking for a program that would allow him to keep his wife and two children financially stable while he commissioned.

Welsh recommended Buckholtz investigate the Air Force’s newest commissioning program as an alternative solution.

To be competitive for the program, an individual must be enlisted and a U.S. citizen between the ages of 18 and 35. They must also have completed 24 semester hours by the end of the selection window. The school of choice must be associated or affiliated with a ROTC program for accountability and administrative oversight.

Buckholtz’s supervisor, Master Sgt. Latoya Cleveland, said his character, work ethic, and exemplary records made him a perfect candidate for the program.

“Senior Airman Buckholtz is a stellar Airman who truly embodies the Air Force’s core values,” said Cleveland. “I have no doubt that the next chapter of his life will further mold him into becoming a phenomenal Airman.”

More than a year since his first talk with the general, Buckholtz is on track to become an officer.

In August, he and his family will move to Prescott, Arizona, where he’ll begin classes at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, where he previously received an associate’s degree.

Although he admits the idea of moving west with his family is nerve-racking, the soon-to-be Mustang said he is ultimately excited to start the program.

“It feels amazing and almost unreal,” said Buckholtz. “I hope this program will allow me to be able to fly the F-35 one day. However, no matter what happens down the line, I will be excited to serve as an officer in the United States Air Force.”

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