August 19, 2013 9:24:24 AM
William Browning - [email protected]
He crossed the stage inside the Kaye Auditorium at Columbus Air Force Base just like his classmates, but 2nd Lt. Jon Koritz did something special Friday.
When Koritz, a 27-year-old from Chapel Hill, N.C., became one of the 23 newest pilots in the U.S. Air Force, he followed in his father's footsteps -- literally.
Maj. Tom Koritz graduated from the Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training program at CAFB in 1982.
"It's a special moment crossing that stage," Jon Koritz said. "It's pretty neat to be crossing the same stage 30 years later."
Koritz had eight family members in town for his graduation. His father was not among that group, though.
Less than a decade after leaving CAFB, Tom Koritz was killed in action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991.
In 2008, at CAFB -- where Jon Koritz has spent the last year earning his pilot wings -- the Koritz Clinic was renamed in honor of his father, who was a pilot-physician.
Jon Koritz didn't take to the sky in an effort to emulate his father. He says he never felt any pressure to join the Air Force. It was only a matter of pursuing his passions.
"I've always been interested in aviation," he said, adding that he began flying at age 16 and got his pilot's license when he was 18.
On Friday, following the graduation, Koritz didn't want to draw attention away from all the graduates' accomplishments. He credited his classmates and his family for helping him through pilot training school.
"I wouldn't have been out here without their help," he said.
Lt. Gen. (Dr.) Thomas Travis, the Air Force Surgeon General, was the keynote speaker at the graduation Friday. Like the late Maj. Tom Koritz, he, too, is a pilot-physician.
He also knew the elder Koritz. He said it was "incredible" that his son was now a pilot in the Air Force.
"It actually says a lot about great Air Force families," Travis said. "A lot of us, our parents served in the Air Force and their children served in the Air Force, and that is very true for the Koritz family as well. I knew Tom. Great pilot. Great physician. Tragic that he was killed. But as I mentioned today during the graduation speech, he would be so proud of his son."
The next stop for Jon Koritz is Seymour Johnson Air Force Base in North Carolina. He will fly F-15 Strike Eagles.
His father also flew F-15s.
William Browning was managing editor for The Dispatch until June 2016.