Husband of 13 years and father of three children, Joel Skaggs, CFI-I, recently graduated from Yavapai College’s Associate of Applied Science (AAS) degree program, Aviation Technology – Helicopter Pilot. Skaggs, who served almost 11 years in the U.S. Marines, got hooked on helicopters during his first ride in the Marine Corp. when a CH-53 took him for a ride and ship landing. “I got to sit up near the front where I had a great view of the cockpit and got to watch the pilots do their thing. I remember looking at all the different instruments and gauges and wondering how the heck they kept track of all of them. When the helicopter took off and I saw how the pilots manipulated the controls, I wondered what it would take to sit in their seat. After that, I was hooked. I just never thought it would be a reality until I discovered my GI Bill benefits would pay for my education, degree, and helicopter flight training,” stated Skaggs. “Now I am an FAA Certificated Flight Instructor – Instrument, Helicopters.”
But the road to his dream wasn’t an easy one. It came with some difficult choices. “For me, the most difficult thing was the decision to leave a stable, well-paying job that I could easily have stayed in a very long time. I simply did not have a passion for what I was doing. I knew I was meant for something different. The decision to move my family across the country from Pennsylvania to Prescott, Arizona and completely start over was the most challenging decision of my life.,” says Skaggs. “I have to credit my wife. She has been with me through thick and thin and has challenged me over and over again to be a better husband and father. She has given me total support through my journey into a life of aviation and as hard as it has been to start over in a new career, she has always been there to encourage me and support me in any way she can.”
“I chose the Yavapai College – Guidance Aviation program after doing some searching online. I had heard that the GI Bill was paying for helicopter training and a college degree so I decided to see what schools were out there. There were only a few out there at the time and Guidance Aviation was one of them. I compared all the schools online and researched their locations. Even though I had to move from cross country, Prescott, AZ looked like the best option so I called Guidance to get more info. This was in 2010 and the first person I talked to was Curt Marshall in student services. (Curtis Marshall, Guidance Graduate, is now flying as a professional pilot for a utility company.) He explained the program to me and walked me through the application process. After talking with him for a while he transferred me to John Stonecipher, President and CEO of Guidance Aviation. Mr. Stonecipher explained more about the program and the industry in general and where the industry was headed. They all seemed very passionate about what they were doing and that made an impression on me. It ended up being another 2 1/2 years until I moved and started the program, but it was worth the wait,” says Skaggs.
Not afraid of commitment or hard work, Skaggs, like any U.S. Marine Veteran, recently decided to take on more responsibility. “My wife and I recently received certification in the state of Arizona to provide foster care. We both received a calling in our lives to care for children who are less fortunate and need someone to love them. We felt that even though we have 3 children of our own, we could make a difference in the lives of children who may not have a chance for a better life otherwise. We now have two additional children in our care now and even though it may be temporary, both the 10 month old baby girl and the 9 month old baby boy have been amazing additions to our family. Not only are we making a difference in their lives, they are making a positive impact on ours as well,” says Skaggs.
Asked if he could choose any job, Skaggs replied resolutely, ” I would choose to be an EMS helicopter pilot. And not just any EMS Pilot…I would fly for the Penn State Hershey Medical Center. I like the idea of being an EMS pilot for many reasons, but mainly to help people and to have a stable job where I can be home with my family every night. That part is very important to me.”
We already know the helicopter industry needs more pilots. What we’ve learned today is that the world also needs more dads like Joel Skaggs and more mothers and wives like Mrs. Skaggs.
Way to go Team Skaggs!
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