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MIHAIL KOGALNICEANU AIR BASE, Romania — Senior Airman Terry Anderson already has established himself as an exceptional member of the 493rd Fighter Squadron’s maintenance team.

Now the 20-year-old is setting his sights even higher.

The F-15 Eagle crew chief is currently working to become one of the few enlisted airmen who gain acceptance to the Air Force Academy. He hopes to become an F-15 pilot.

“I love my job, working with our crew and turning the wrenches,” the Littleton, Colo., native said. “But I really want a chance to get behind the wheel of one of these things, or the stick really,” Anderson said.

He joined the Air Force roughly two years ago without any aspirations to fly.

But working on the classic American fighter jet and watching the F-15s shred the English skies above RAF Lakenheath have motivated him to apply for a spot at the academy.

“There are other routes, I know, but this seems to be the most direct,” he said. “I’m not saying what I do now is low, because it’s not, but it’s a huge step.”

Anderson is now working toward the application process at the academy, which accepts 85 enlisted airmen each academic year, according to U.S. Air Forces in Europe official. Airmen also must be unmarried with no dependents and younger than 22 by July 1 of the entry year. The academy also requires applicants to be “of high moral character,” and have fewer than six years of service in the Air Force.

Airmen also must take a physical aptitude exam, an extensive medical evaluation and an interview with an admissions liaison officer. They also must complete a writing sample and attain qualifying scores on the Scholastic Aptitude Test or the American College Test.

There are an additional 135 slots for enlisted airmen in the Leaders Encouraging Airmen Development program, which sends airmen to the Air Force Academy Prep School.

Anderson’s commanders both said he’s the type of hard-working, intensely focused airman who can rise to this challenge.

“He has, in my opinion, unlimited potential,” said 493rd commander Lt. Col. Craig Wills, 38, of Glendale, Ariz. “He represents the very best of what the Air Force has to offer. My personal hope is that he can take advantage of the tools the Air Force has to offer.”

Senior Master Sgt. Santos Rodriguez, 42, of San Antonio, also had high praise for Anderson.

“You get the feeling he very much has the qualities it takes to pilot one of these [F-15s],” Rodriguez said. “He’s one of our top performers and always keeps a gung-ho attitude.”

Anderson is working on his preparatory examinations and keeping his eye on the sky.

“It’s something that a lot of people never get to do and it would be a real privilege to fly with the best Air Force in the world,” he said. “The whole stigma is just amazing, you know, to be the best of the best.”

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