From Airman to Officer

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Vaughn Weber
  • 355th Wing Public Affairs

Hopkins wanted nothing more than to pilot a heavy aircraft, even though DM is the sole formal training unit for the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft. He is currently on his way to the U.S. Air Force Academy Preparatory School in Colorado Springs, Colorado, to follow this dream.

It all started one day when Hopkins was hard at work with his munitions crew. He got an urgent notification calling them back in to the squadron. He didn’t know what was going on at first and was even more confused when he learned that the commander would be there. Yet, when the commander started talking about colleges and a scholarship program, it dawned on Hopkins that he was getting handed a certificate authenticating what he had been waiting for since enlisting.

“When I got that certificate handed to me, it was one of the greatest moments of my life,” said Senior Airman Keelan Hopkins, 355th Munitions Squadron conventional maintenance crew chief. “It was just a surreal experience overall, and I didn’t expect to receive any sort of notification that I’d been accepted so soon.”

After receiving the scholarship, his leadership set him up to shadow different officers giving him the opportunity to see what they do on a day-to-day basis.

“His positivity and approachable demeanor will better him and his classmates at USAFA,” said 1st Lt. Paul Matthews, 43rd Electronic Combat Squadron EC-130H Compass Call co-pilot. “Developing his leadership potential there for the next five years, I see Senior Airman Hopkins being a fine young officer ready to lead Airmen in whichever career he pursues.”

The preparatory school is a 10-month program including math, science, reading and writing courses. Once he graduates from the prep school, he will transition to the USAFA for his bachelor's degree. After he earns his bachelor's from the USAFA, he will finally be commissioned as an officer in the Air Force. Hopkins was one of 50 Airmen selected Air Force-wide for this program this year.

“I saw Hopkins’ early development where he stood out as one of the most reliable Airman in the shop,” said Staff Sgt. Aaron Burley, 355th Munitions Squadron custody account supervisor. “The non-commissioned officers could always count on his production and without question he got the job done.”

Many people throughout Hopkins’ life were officers that he looked up to including family and friends who were pilots that first sparked his interest in this dream. Shortly after enlisting, Hopkins discovered that he still had many opportunities to become an officer. At first this seemed like it would be more difficult than commissioning from the start, but it actually proved to be in his favor. His prior military experience, accomplishments and desire to reach new heights would look far better on an application than someone deciding to commission early on with less experience.

“He matured on his prior potential and molded into a great leader and exemplary Airman,” said Burley. “Anything he knew he taught and anything he didn't know, he sought to learn.”

In 2021, Hopkins applied to become an officer through an application process called Leaders Encouraging Airman Development, an Air Force-wide initiative that gives Airmen without degrees the opportunity to attend the USAFA. This program also gives unit commanders the authority to identify and nominate exceptional Airmen, who exhibit leadership qualities for acceptance to the prep school. He was not accepted in 2021, but that didn’t discourage him as he reapplied and was accepted in 2022.

"I think if anyone is considering applying just do it, it can only help in the long run," said Hopkins. "I’ve seen myself grow so much as a person and even though I’ve still got a long ways to go, I’m looking forward to the future."