Combelic sets flight plan for Air Force

June 22, 2011

As a pilot, Ryan Combelic knows it is important to have a flight plan and follow it as best as conditions and variables allow.

Combelic is lining himself up for takeoff, in a big way, based on the flight plan the 2011 HRVHS grad charted starting in middle school.

He starts basic training this week at the U.S Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo.

Combelic received a $420,000 full ride from the Air Force Academy, the first from Hood River to receive the honor in the 12 years since U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, who nominated him, took office.

Combelic intends to commit to 10 years with the Air Force so he can become a pilot.

"This is a real honor, and I'm grateful," Combelic said. "The Air Force is the best route for me to go, and since not many people in my family have served in the military I feel it's kind of my turn.

"I knew when I was in middle school I wanted to attend a service academy. I have always liked to have a plan and stick with it," said Combelic, who was born in White Salmon and attended Henkle Middle School and transferred to HRVHS in grade nine.

He sought the needed Congressional nomination in late 2010, applied to the Academy in early February and learned of his acceptance on March 24. Air Force Maj. Shawn West presented Combelic with a Certificate of Admittance to the Academy Class of 2015 at the HRVHS scholarship night last month.

Combelic said 13,000 people apply to the academy each year, and 1,200 are accepted. Combelic's parents are Karin Kloster and James Combelic of Hood River, and he has an older brother, Dayne, 25.

Combelic is building on his interest and aptitude for mathematics, science and technology in high school, and his experience with computers and aviation.

"Flying is the ultimate multi-tasking," Combelic said. "Flying requires you to be always checking for something. It blends technology and science and math, all my best subjects, and physics, weather and continuous calculating," he said.

In addition to building and flying radio-controlled planes up to 14-feet wingspan, he owns a student pilot license, which allows him to solo. (His flight time has been limited lately, however, given his busy schedule between finishing up his studies and playing on the HRVHS baseball. He does plan to "give it a try" on the Air Force baseball team.)

He plans to become a pilot, so his workload this spring also included the "rigorous" application process with the academy, as well as with the offices of Rep. Greg Walden and Sen. Jeff Merkley, both of whom nominated him, in a process that started in November.

Combelic had multiple interviews with a board of retired military people at each lawmaker's office, and received nomination offers from both Merkley and Walden, as well as from Sen. Ron Wyden. Formally, Walden is Combelic's nominator.

"The kids that were nominated by the board showed leadership and leadership potential, extremely high academic credentials and extracurricular that showed their dedication to public service," said John Howard, Walden's director of constituent services and retired Navy commander who serves as a member of Walden's nomination board

Walden could have nominated 10 students this year, but his office nominated eight. From there, the academy makes its selection, and Combelic made the cut.

"I always wanted to go to college and serve in the military, and the Air Force is a hybrid of both," Combelic said. "Some people have asked if I'm enlisting, but that's not exactly it. Air Force is also one of the top schools in the nation."

He said he recognizes the potential for risk as a military aviator.

"But you can't think about that too much," he said. "You definitely have to focus on what your job is."

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