Moody security guard overcomes hectic schedule, slated to become AF pilot Published Aug. 10, 2007 By Airman 1st Class Eric Schloeffel 23rd Wing Public Affairs MOODY AIR FORCE BASE, Ga. -- A Moody gate guard will soon leave his post at the base's entrance to embark on a new career as an Air Force pilot. Buddy McNeal, a contracted security guard with USProtect, balanced full-time jobs at work and school for several years to follow his dreams of becoming a commissioned officer in the military. He earned his degree by taking classes at both Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Valdosta State University, while participating in Air Force ROTC. "Truth be told, the first two years of college were some of the roughest times of my life," said Mr. McNeal, who is married and has two daughters. "I would only get three to four hours of sleep at night and carried a lot on my shoulders. But I'm a firm believer if you are committed and have the inner drive, you can accomplish anything." Mr. McNeal, 25, joined the Air Force reserves soon after high school and worked as an air transportation journeyman at Dobbins Air Reserve Base, Ga. He enjoyed his experience as an enlisted Airman, but something he heard during basic training inspired him to set his sights on becoming an officer. "Before boot camp, I never thought attending college was possible - I just didn't have the money and it wasn't my thing," said Mr. McNeal, a native of Gainesville, Ga. "But during boot camp, a prior-enlisted major told our flight his life story and emphasized to never let anyone hold you back from your goals. He was sort of bragging about how well he was doing in life but seemed happy with all he accomplished." This experience led Mr. McNeal to research the best options to pursue a commission. He decided ROTC would likely be the quickest route, so the McNeal's packed their belongings and headed south to Valdosta. He soon began school and worked as a corrections officer at a nearby prison to provide for his family. During this time, Mr. McNeal was faced with raising two children, a full-load at school and a full-time job. Many people doubted his chances of completing school while dealing with this balancing act, he said. "I had supervisors at the prison who asked about my schedule and proceeded to tell me I would never be able to accomplish this, and could never keep a pace like this for four years," said Mr. McNeal. "But I have an underdog mentality, so it only motivates me to prove someone wrong when they tell me I can't do it." His hard work recently paid off, as he received his commission in the spring, graduating with a Bachelor's degree in Professional Aeronautics from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. While becoming a pilot never had been Mr. McNeal's focus during his road to becoming an officer, he welcomed the opportunity as an added bonus to a dream come true. "During ROTC, most cadets have always dreamed of becoming a pilot and are trying to accomplish that goal," he said. "I always thought becoming a pilot was too high-speed for me, but I was at the top of my class during ROTC field training and thought I had a shot at it. It is pretty much icing on the cake to receive the opportunity." Though Mr. McNeal doesn't know which aircraft he will be assigned to fly, he is aiming for fighter aircraft, he said. He will begin active duty working at the Valdosta State University's ROTC detachment before leaving for undergraduate pilot training at Columbus Air Force Base, Miss., in the fall. His wife, who has held down the family for several years, said she is relieved her husband will finally be able to spend more time at home but is also inspired by his achievements. "I am beyond proud of him, because he worked so hard to accomplish this," said Stephanie McNeal. "It was a little frustrating at times, but it often felt like I was going to school with him and it will prepare me for what it's like when I start going back. But we're finally seeing the results of his hard work, and I can feel the stress level going down. It will definitely pay off in the end." Mr. McNeal's ambitious journey from enlisted Airmen to security guard, to an Air Force officer led him to believe that anything can be accomplished with the right attitude. He is confident this philosophy will carry over into his Air Force career, he said. "My advice to others is never to let anybody tell you that you can't accomplish your goals," said Mr. McNeal. "I'm firm believer in that, but I'm also thankful God has blessed me to the point where I could do these things."