Georgia boy reaches for the sky, becomes Marine pilot

Georgia boy reaches for the sky, becomes Marine pilot

1stLt William E. Wiggins, 27-years-old, of Rome, Ga., a KC-130 J Super Hercules pilot with Marine Refueler Transport Squadron 152 stands in front of his aircraft Feb. 13 during the Singapore International Airshow 2014. Photo by Capt Caleb D. Eames.

SINGAPORE (Feb. 15, 2014) - As a youngster growing up in the Georgia countryside, 1stLt William E. Wiggins spent his fair share of time in the dirt and dust, farming and plowing. But over his head, the bright blue sky was calling.

Wiggins, 27-years-old, of Rome, Ga., is now a KC-130 J Super Hercules pilot with Marine Refueler Transport Squadron 152 based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in Okinawa, Japan. And he is living a dream.

"Although I am a new guy to the squadron, I am working my way up the qualifications to aircraft commander," said Wiggins. "Who could have imagined that a Georgia boy would make it so far?"

Wiggins, who has been with the squadron since August of 2012, has about five years in the Marines. 

Born in metro Atlanta, he spent part of his childhood as an inner-city youth. When he was 12-years-old, his family relocated to Cartersville, Ga., and he spent time as a country boy, fishing, hunting and camping.

Wiggins has played football from the age of 4 to 23, including playing for Shorter College as a nose guard, and at the time was 5'9" and weighed 240 lbs. This life of football has been instrumental throughout his life, with many applications for him as a Marine.

"What influenced me to become a Marine was the fact that my great-grandfather was an enlisted Marine grunt wounded on Iwo Jima, my father served as Marine infantry in Vietnam, and brother was a Marine heavy equipment operator in Camp Lejeune," said Wiggins. "I almost went to the enlisted side, but because I had my college education, my recruiter pointed me to the way of Officer Candidate School."

Wiggins spent his remaining time in college working with the Marine recruiters, teaching local poolees and mentoring young adults. He says that set him up for success with leadership attributes for the future of being a Marine officer.

"Where I came from, my family had tough times, but I was taught at a young age to work hard and be respectful and to appreciate everything we had," Wiggins relates. "We farmed, plowed fields, built chicken coops and toiled in the dirt and sun, and never thought I would make it this far. Now I wake up and fly a 100-million-dollar aircraft. I do not consider myself a smart guy, just very blessed.

Wiggins says that although being a pilot requires a lot of work, he just puts one foot in front of the other. "I took only one math class in college and now I'm a pilot," he laughs.

Wiggins has a pre-flight ritual that involves wearing a hat, gloves and keeping a set of patches in his pocket each time he flies. He says this tradition goes back to his football years in Georgia, where the helmet became a hat, his sports gloves became flying gloves, and the patches are from each of his previous units. "Every pilot has a ritual before they fly, whether they admit it or not," said Wiggins. "Spending most of my life suiting up for football, it just feels right to suit up to fly as well." 

"The best parts of my job are the traveling and working with the crew in a small tight-knit team," he continues. "With our C-130's the Marines take the airplane and crew, and go accomplish the assigned task far from the flagpole with our commander's intent."

Wiggins and his team travel the entire Pacific, covering thousands of miles at a time, giving the Marine Corps a strategic air asset and bringing tremendous capability and crisis response preparedness for the United States in the Asia-Pacific. 

"The most challenging part of my job is that at the end of the day, once I'm done flying, I'm not done working," he says. "I still have to plan, do paperwork, do my ground jobs and then spend time with family. If all I had to do was fly, it would be simple."

Wiggins is married, and his wife is pregnant, so family time is very important to him.

"I joined the Corps to do the most good that I could, and I know from my time growing up what a real commitment requires," Wiggins said. "Whenever I have infantry or ground-side Marines on the plane, I know they are counting on me. I am just a cog in the wheel supporting the ground guys. I am the ground operators' enabler, I am the fast-mover's refueling enabler, I am the parachutists' enabler, getting them where they need to go at the right time and place. I want other Marines to know when the C-130 is planned in the mission, they don't have to worry about us being there when needed."

Wiggins' squadron, VMGR-152, is at the Singapore Air Show, the largest defense exhibition in Asia, in order to showcase the capabilities of the KC-130J Super Hercules to the gathered international audience, including military and defense officials. The Singapore Air Show promotes interoperability among participating nations, and represents an opportunity to engage nations in the region with military-to-military discussions. The U.S. is the feature nation this year, and this is the first time Ospreys have appeared at the Singapore Air Show.

VMGR-152 is part of Marine Air Group 36, 1st Marine Air Wing, III Marine Expeditionary Force.

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