PATRICK AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --
Individuals start businesses, build monuments and create beautiful artwork to gain recognition and to kick start their own legacies. However, sometimes people do amazing things that were never a part of their agenda to begin with.
Citizen Airman Maj. Jennifer Orton is one of those people. Most days she spends her time caring for her two young children. She enjoys volunteering at their school events and takes them on RV adventures with her husband regularly.
“Every chance we get, we travel somewhere,” said Orton. “I think it’s important that kids explore and learn things other than iPads and television.”
When she finds some spare time she enjoys shopping and watching the Denver Broncos play football.
However, when Orton isn’t spending time tending to her responsibilities as a stay-at-home mother, she can be found somewhere in the world flying search and rescue missions in hostile environments.
Orton is a combat search and rescue (CSAR) pilot with the 39th Rescue Squadron here and has logged approximately 3,000 hours of flight time throughout her Air Force career. Some of that flight time includes deployments to places like Afghanistan, Iraq and the Horn of Africa.
To her surprise, Orton recently found out that according to the 39th RSQ she holds the title of being their first female Air Force Reserve fixed-wing CSAR pilot.
Orton began her career in the Air Force as an aircraft loadmaster at Pope Field, North Carolina, where she was tasked with loading, unloading and balancing aircraft cargo.
In 2000, she transitioned to the Air National Guard and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas with her husband where she cross-trained as a flight engineer. Her new responsibilities included monitoring aircraft flying systems.
While in the Guard, Orton earned her Bachelors of Science in Education then commissioned as an officer and completed flight school.
Eventually, Orton transitioned to the Air Force Reserve and has been flying the HC-130P/N King fixed-wing aerial refueling aircraft on missions for the 920th Rescue Wing.
“I love the variety of missions we fly,” said Orton. “There are so many different things we can do in the C-130, like refueling, hauling cargo and dropping PJs (highly specialized Air Force rescue specialists).”
“Maj. Orton is a very professional aviator,” said Lt. Col. David Underwood, CSAR pilot with the 39th RQS here. “She always comes well prepared and ready to execute whatever task we have. With over 20 years of experience as an enlisted crew member, and as an officer, she has a perspective that few in our community have.”
Orton attributes many of her Air Force accomplishments to the people that have supported her ambitions over the years. She offers her wisdom for the next generation of Airmen with the hopes that they can reach new heights like she has.
“I love the fact that my husband and family have always been supportive and helped me get where I am today,” said Orton. “I would also say I had a really good mentor, now retired Chief Master Sgt. Sean Flannery.”
Orton stressed the importance of mentorship in the military. She said mentorship offers young Airmen the guidance and support they need to thrive.
“I would definitely recommend finding one,” said Orton. “Find that person. Let them be your mentor.”
She says you don’t have to limit yourself to just one mentor either. You can have one for a variety of things like professional development, job performance and personal life matters.
She also places an emphasis on motivation.
“Life’s too short,” said Orton. “Don’t ever look back and say, ‘I wish I would have.’ If you want to do something in life, go do it.”