Air Force pilot says Hiram Johnson ROTC kept him focused

Published: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 2B
Last Modified: Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013 - 12:55 pm

Charles Cummings was just 17 years old when he enlisted in the Air Force.

The eldest of seven children, Cummings had always dreamed of becoming an Air Force pilot. Today, that dream is a reality for the Sacramento native. The 27-year-old received his pilot's license last year and flies C-17 transports out of Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield.

But the road to success hasn't always been smooth. During his junior year at Hiram Johnson High School, Cummings was homeless.

The school's ROTC program kept him motivated and on track.

"He was a great kid, but had a pretty tough home life," said ROTC instructor Senior Master Sgt. Jim Rost, who taught Cummings his freshman year.

Today, Cummings will return to Hiram Johnson High for the school's ROTC military ball and to share his story.

"Failing is possible. But so is success," Cummings said, when asked what message he would tell students.

One day, Rost told Cummings he had to cut off his ponytail, otherwise he couldn't stay in ROTC. After Cummings agreed, Rost whipped out a knife and cut the hair on the spot.

Cummings was never able to graduate from Hiram Johnson. Because of personal difficulties, he dropped out and enlisted in the Air Force during his junior year.

But within a few years, he would have both his GED and bachelor's degree. His academic motivation spread to his work as well.

"He ran up real quick through the enlisted ranks," said Chief Master Sgt. Shawn Sanborn, who supervised Cummings at Travis Air Force Base.

For seven years, Cummings served as a loadmaster on transport flights. He flew in missions across the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan. The loadmaster plays the critical role of balancing cargo correctly.

"The airplane won't fly or can potentially crash if the center of gravity is off," Cummings said. "Weight and balance is important."

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Read more articles by Richard Chang

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