Lieutenant proves dreams come true

  • Published
  • By Katie Boles
  • 23rd Wing Public Affairs
From a childhood goal to a present reality, a Moody lieutenant has seen his dream to fly span two continents and many struggles. 

At first glance 1st Lt. Joszef Jonas, 75th Fighter Squadron A-10C Thunderbolt II pilot, looks like every other Airman in a flight suit, but soon his deep Hungarian accent hints to the struggles he has faced to reach this point. 

Originally born in Baklatoranthaza, Hungary, in 1976, Lieutenant Jonas, known by his fellow fliers by his call sign "Boarat", dreamt of being around planes his entire childhood. 

Growing up in a military family, he knew he would follow in his father's footsteps. In 1994, he began his education at the Hungarian Military Academy and in 1999 he was commissioned and given the assignment to fly the Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. 

His initial encounter with the United States came in 1998 during his junior year at the Hungarian Military Academy. He was selected ahead of two commissioned lieutenants to come to U.S. for a year of U.S. Air Force training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. 

While in America, he met the key people who, unbeknownst to him, would be key elements in the success of his future U.S. Air Force career, as well as the woman who would become his wife. 

Lori Sanchez, a small town girl from Del Rio, Texas, was immediately drawn to Lieutenant Jonas because of his accent. After his time in the United States was up, she made the decision to leave her small town of Del Rio and travel to Hungary to be with him. Three months after arriving in Hungary, they were married. 

In 2001, the Hungarian Air Force grounded him and told him that he would no longer have the opportunity to fly. With his dreams of flying diminishing, Lieutenant Jonas and his wife felt that coming back to America would be the best option. 

The couple moved back to her hometown of Del Rio in January 2000. Once back in the U.S., Lieutenant Jonas contacted Maj. Cliff Wilson, an Air Force Admissions Office Liaison and an old friend from his first visit to the states, to help him become a U.S. Air Force pilot. 

"After a little research, the chance of joining the Air Force didn't look like it was going to happen," said Lieutenant Jonas. "I didn't come over with the big hope of 'give me a jet and let's fly.' It was a little bit more realistic than that. But I knew because of my heritage, joining the military here would be a struggle." 

After the events of September 11, 2001, Lieutenant Jonas said he needed to give it one more shot because he owed a commitment to his new country. He called an Army recruiter and by the weekend he signed the papers that would send him to basic military training within the month. 

"I knew, given the opportunity, he would rise to the top of any group you could put him in," said Major Wilson. "He embodied the core values that we in the Air Force espouse, and with his outstanding flying abilities, I considered his dream well worth any efforts I could expend on his behalf." 

By enlisting in the Army the week after Sept. 11, he incurred a six-year active duty service commitment that would take him beyond the age requirements to be an Air Force pilot. 

In the Army, Specialist Jonas was air assault qualified with the 101st Airborne Division and manned the 50-caliber machine gun as a crew member on the CH-47 Chinook. 

Being able to work with helicopters as an enlisted crew chief satisfied his love of aviation, but behind the scenes Major Wilson was still working his magic. 

"Without my knowledge he was soliciting some friends to help me out," said Lieutenant Jonas. "It was obvious to him if an Air Force commission was going to happen, it would have to be a deal with generals involved. Starting at the bottom and moving up was not working for me." 

With Major Wilson's help, doors began to open for Lieutenant Jonas. A Presidential Executive Order was passed in 2002, seven months before he was to deploy to Iraq, which enabled him to apply for citizenship and cut his wait time in half. 

Lieutenant Jonas deployed before the process was complete, and because of his absence from the country, his case was closed without notification to him. Through Mrs. Jonas and Major Wilson's help, Del Rio Mayor Dora Alcala was called in to help. 

Mayor Acala then asked U.S. Sen. John Coryn, from Texas, to help Lieutenant Jonas. Senator Coryn was so committed to helping him, he arranged for the file to be reopened in Texas so he could keep personal eye on it. His citizenship was finally secured in October 2003. 

Still in Iraq, the Army granted Lieutenant Jonas leave to take his Oath of Citizenship on U.S. soil. 

While the Senator was not able to attend the ceremony, his entire office was there, as well as people working at the Immigration Service, Mayor Alcala, Mrs. Jonas family, Major Wilson and his wife. 

"During my naturalization ceremony, I had a flag presented to me from Senator Coryn's office. I took it back to Iraq and placed it on the helicopter I crewed, which was then flown in a combat zone," Lieutenant Jonas said. "If I ever get to deploy with the A-10, I'm going to take it with me again and fly with it." 

At this time, Gen. Davis Petraeus, Commanding General, Multi-National Force- Iraq, who at the time was the Commander of the 101st personally arranged Lieutenant Jonas' release from the Army upon his selection by the Air Force to be a pilot. 

He was selected as a Air Force pilot in May 2004 and was sworn in by Major Wilson in July 2004. Soon after began Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala., and then started his Initial Pilot Training at Laughlin AFB, Texas, that same year. 

As Lieutenant Jonas was preparing for his very first flight in the Air Force, Major Wilson was preparing for his final flight as a reservist at Laughlin AFB, Texas. As a final farewell, Major Wilson arranged for his final flight to be Lieutenant Jonas' first. 

Since that first flight, Lieutenant Jonas' journey has taken him to train with the A-10 at Davis-Monthan AFB and then to the 23rd Fighter Group at Pope AFB. 

"He is a lot older than the average lieutenant as well as more mature; he has seen a lot more and done a lot more than your average 22-year-old right out of pilot training," said Lt. Col. Sam Milam, 75th Fighter Squadron, commander, who first met Lieutenant Jonas at Davis-Monthan AFB,. "He is a pretty significant asset to the squadron; he is always ready to fly. I wish I had some more like him." 

Even with his experiences flying MiG 21's, crewing helicopters and becoming an A-10 pilot, Lieutenant Jonas said he is still learning. He hopes one day to go back into combat to support the U.S. Army, just as they supported him in his quest to fly. 

"This could only happen in America, the greatest country on earth," he added. "I couldn't be happier serving my country."