Hard Work Pays Off: Defender selected to become active-duty drone pilot

Staff Sgt. Jalen McMahan, 445th Security Forces Squadron fire team member, poses for a photo after completing training at the firing range, Nov. 8, 2020 at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

taff Sgt. Jalen McMahan, who was assigned to the 445th Security Forces Squadron at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for eight years, was recently selected to become an active-duty remotely piloted aircraft pilot. (Courtesy photo)

A Reserve Citizen Airman assigned to the 445th Airlift Wing, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, headed to drone pilot training in early 2021, following eight years of service to the 445th Security Forces Squadron.

During the squadron’s 2018 deployment to Kuwait, Staff Sgt. Jalen McMahan, fire team member, completed accelerated online classwork toward a master’s degree in justice administration. He balanced his course load with the demands of high-tempo deployment operations, at times working upward of 12-hour shifts.

As soon as he returned to the United States, he contacted a recruiter to apply for an active-duty commission in the Air Force. With both his undergraduate and graduate degrees in the field of criminal justice, along with four years’ civilian experience as a corrections officer, he anticipated that if he was selected, it would be for a security forces role.

“I always wanted to be a pilot, but I just never thought I’d get there,” McMahan said. “During that deployment, I simply focused on doing my job well, putting in the academic work to advance my career and poising my family for the future.”

For McMahan, this next step has been a long time coming. He was notified of his selection to become a remotely piloted aircraft pilot in December 2019. He was scheduled to report to Officer Training School in Alabama Jan. 5 of this year. Following graduation, he will attend advanced training in both Colorado and Texas.

“I’m excited to tackle something new and push myself,” the 28-year-old said. “I’m planning to carry what I’ve learned from my mentors and teammates here as I transition into active duty.”

McMahan and his wife, Tanner, are both Ohio natives. When they wed in 2017, the wedding party included friends McMahan met at the 445th.

“I will miss the family I’ve found in this squadron,” he added. “I was looking for a new challenge, but it’s going to be a big change to leave this behind.”

When asked what the future holds, McMahan said he hopes that once he settles at his permanent-duty station, he and Tanner can explore new places, go backpacking and purchase their first home together. #ReserveResilient

(Ingram is assigned to the 445th Airlift Wing public affairs office.)