Some things are just meant to be.
Lt. Col. Joe Mirarchi and 2nd Lt. Chris Mirarchi’s story might have been just another example of a young man following in his father’s footsteps, taking his place in the long blue line of Air Force pilots except there’s more.
Joe, who retired in February after nearly three decades of Air Force service that started with a Reserve Officer Training Corps commission in 1987, is a former F-15 Eagle pilot. He resigned his commission in 1996, ready to focus solely on his family and a civilian pilot career.
He moved his family to California, where he landed a position with Delta.
But, leaving the Air Force wasn’t meant to be. At Delta he met longtime friend and colleague Col. William Rial, now retired, who would have a recurring and powerful impact on the Mirarchi family.
In 1998, when the Reserve initiated a new instructor pilot program, Joe’s interest was piqued, but he knew the journey would be difficult.
“I had resigned my commission, so I knew I would need help to return,” he said.
And he got help. Rial tirelessly crusaded for Joe, helping to secure an interview with the 43rd Flying Training Squadron at Columbus Air Force Base, Mississippi.
With a strong advocate in his corner, it was nevertheless up to Joe to secure a place with the 43rd. Offered a T-38A/C instructor pilot position, Joe was recommissioned in August 1998, and he resumed his place in the long blue line.
After nearly a decade, however, the double commute required to fly for Delta and the 43rd began to take a toll, drastically limiting Joe’s time with his family.
“My success is measured by the happiness of my family,” he said.
It was time to look for a better option – one that would allow him to be a full-time member of the family he holds so dear. He interviewed with the 340th Flying Training Group at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph in Texas, and was selected to be the training manager for all T-38 Reserve pilots.
“It was one of the hardest decisions in my career,” he said. “Leaving our Columbus family and uprooting my family from their home in Georgia was very difficult.”
The move to San Antonio proved to be the best decision for all, though, providing Joe with more family time, opening the door to great successes for the kids, and blessing the family with a host of new friends and relationships.
Joe’s story is not unusual. But, coupled with Chris’ part in the tale, it’s evident that some things are just meant to be.
Chris, whose career is just beginning, long ago set his sights on that Air Force long blue line. Born at Eglin AFB, Florida, where his father flew F-15s, his early interest was obvious and the Mirarchi family albums are overflowing with as many images of airplanes as there are photos of Joe, kids Chris and Brianna, and his wife, Teresa.
It was Chris’ decision as a youngster to pursue a private pilot’s license, and he pursued that goal with fervor.
“We made a conscious decision to have Chris train with someone other than Joe, partly because Joe’s schedule was so busy but mostly because we wanted Chris’ pursuit of becoming a fighter pilot to be his own,” said Teresa.
Although it was Chris’ decision to pursue an Air Force commission, his early passion for flying clearly echoed his father’s. From an early age, Joe also knew he wanted to fly, and to make that happen he worked for his father in the family butcher shop to earn the money for a private pilot’s license (which he achieved before graduating from high school). Chris, no stranger to hard work and big goals, earned the money for his license, too. A gregarious, gifted speaker, he thrived as a Natural Bridge Caverns tour guide.
A 2014 University of Texas-Austin graduate, Chris earned a bachelor of science degree in astrophysics and soon after graduation, he let his dad know that he intended to “aim high and be an Air Force officer and fighter pilot.”
“Inside, I was so elated. I tried to stay calm outside so that Chris wouldn’t feel like I wanted him to do this for me, but to hear him say he wanted to follow this path was amazing,” Joe said.
Having made his decision, Chris aggressively pursued a position (like his dad did so many years ago) and his perseverance was rewarded when the Florida Air National Guard selected him to fly the same plane his dad flew: the F-15C.
Because some things are just meant to be, it will come as no surprise that a key player in Chris’ pursuit and selection for the Florida Air National Guard position was Rial, who again campaigned and supported Chris, just as he supported his father 20 years ago.
Like his dad’s, Chris’ civilian career is rooted in the aerospace industry. He will continue to serve as a pilot support tech for ForeFlight LLC, a pilot technology development and distribution company, while simultaneously serving his country in the Florida Air National Guard.
But, there’s more to the story of Joe and Chris.
A few years ago, when Chris was ready for his solo flight, his instructor was unavailable. He was on a tight schedule to complete his training, so Joe (who is a civilian instructor pilot and who was available) had the enviable opportunity to sign his son off on that solo flight.
In November, Joe commissioned Chris into the Air Force, officially enabling him to take his place in the long blue line.
Joe’s original mandatory retirement date was in April 2017. But fate wasn’t done with the Mirarchis, and his service date was extended.
Thanks to that extension, in February Joe flew his final sortie for the Air Force, prior to his retirement ceremony, and his wingman Chris flew back seat in ship two (his first Air Force sortie).
Following that remarkable flight, 2nd Lt. Chris Mirarchi officially retired his father, Lt. Col. Joe Mirarchi, enabling Joe to exit the long blue line.
“This is a noble calling,” Chris said. “I know I have big shoes to fill, and I am honored and fortunate to be able to accept the torch, and to look forward to a career and the kind of life that my dad and his teammates, friends and coworkers have lived.”
But the day was bittersweet for Joe.
“There are aspects that I will miss,” he said of his Reserve position at the 39th Flying Training Squadron. “On active duty, you move every two years, and while there is camaraderie, it’s not the same as the Reserve. As a member of the Reserve, you live and work with the same people for many, many years - an entire career - and you’re more than a team. This is family.”
Still, he looks forward to spending more time with his wife, and having passed the torch to his son, he’s confident all will be well.
“Our future is in good hands,” he said.
Yes, it is. Because some things are just meant to be.
(Gildea is assigned to the340th Flying Training Group public affairs office.)