In 2016, Breckenridge native Jennifer Kwiatek was attending Tulane University to attain her doctorate. Realizing she didn’t want to spend the rest of her life in a lab, Kwiatek decided to pursue a career as a Navy pilot. Now Lt. Kwiatek, the 2010 BHS grad, is preparing to deploy in three weeks as a pilot in the U.S. Navy helicopter squadron.
“I wanted a job that would have a little bit more excitement and adventure,” Kwiatek said. “I started talking to a Navy recruiter and he asked how I’d feel about being a pilot and I thought it sounded awesome. Here we are.”
Kwiatek, whose maiden name is Marple, spent three years training for her current job. Some of her favorite memories from her time in flight school were her first flights on her own.
“Going through flight school you have a couple opportunities where you can take an aircraft out on a solo. It’s kind of those first experiences of them putting trust in you to really test your training and put it to use,” Kwiatek said. “Those were really cool experiences, but getting through flight school on its own is a challenge.”
Following her initial tests, Kwiatek partook in Aviation Pre-Flight Indoctrination (API). The process involves a couple weeks of classes going over the theory of flight and weather that impacts operations.
Following API, Kwiatek moved on to primary flight training, where she flew a T-6 Texan airplane.
“It’s actually your first time flying a specific Navy aircraft. That’s just a one-engine, high performance kind of aircraft,” Kwiatek said. “You really learn how to do your basic flying, instrument flying, some aerobatics with the loops and formation flight. You really get to do a lot of cool things in that aircraft.”
After primary flight training, Kwiatek had to choose which aircraft she wanted to specialize in. It was a no-brainer.
“Helicopters in general are just super fun to fly. It is so much more fun to be flying down at one or two hundred feet and see everything rushing past you than it is to fly up at 20,000 feet for long periods of time,” Kwiatek said. “Helicopters are cool. We can go backwards. No other type of aircraft can go backwards or sideways. We can do a lot of cool stuff and I felt that connection with what I wanted to do.”
Once she selected her aircraft, Kwiatek moved on to advanced flight training. She got her wings upon finishing the training and moved on to joining a fleet replacement squadron in Jacksonville, Florida. She’s a “Spartan” for the Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70.
According to Navy officials, her helicopter, the MH-60R, is the most capable multi-mission helicopter available in the world today.
It’s one of the most versatile vehicles in the military and a big step up from the TH-57 Kwiatek flew in training.
“This is obviously much bigger and the only purpose of our training helicopter is having the basic flight capability,” Kwiatek said. “In advanced flight school you learn how to fly the aircraft and once you go to the fleet replacement squadron you learn how to fight the aircraft.”
Kwiatek said she wouldn’t have been able to make it through the training process without her parents teaching her how to work hard in her early years.
“Paramount among the skills you need for this job is that work ethic. Through this training and in this job everybody has very high expectations of what you need to get done and what you need to do to accomplish the mission. You can’t do that without really having that motivation, that work ethic and that discipline to do what needs to be done,” Kwiatek said.
“It’s definitely something my parents instilled in me. As much as I hated chores and all that kind of stuff as a kid, I guess it comes in handy down the road.”
Kwiatek wasn’t allowed to disclose where she’s deploying. She found out on Thursday, Aug. 8.
“It’s busy and challenging, but you learn a lot along the way and for the most part the job is a lot of fun. We do a lot of really cool things and it’s always changing,” Kwiatek said. “At the end of last week I thought I wasn’t deploying until next year, but I found out this morning I’m deploying in three weeks. They keep you on your toes.”