Throughout his senior year in the Corps of Cadets, Oscar Ibanez ‘21, looked forward to graduating from Texas A&M with his bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Engineering and commissioning into the U.S. Air Force as a Second Lieutenant.
“I joined the Corps of Cadets for a few reasons. I wanted to participate in the best ROTC program in the United States so I could be the most prepared to be an officer in the Air Force. I’m a nostalgic person, so history, heritage and tradition are some of my favorite things to learn about, participate in and witness. There is no better place to experience all three of these things than Texas A&M University, and there is no better way to truly immerse yourself in them than by becoming an Aggie cadet,” Ibanez said as he described why he chose Texas A&M.
Oscar’s path to Texas A&M and the Corps of Cadets was unique, as it included a stint at Texas A&M Galveston before he transferred to Texas A&M’s main campus.
“I originally applied to the U.S. Air Force Academy and the U.S. Military Academy, but despite receiving congressional nominations to both, I ultimately was not admitted. I knew that I wanted to join the military and have a career in aviation, but I was left searching for a school. Once I realized how much history and priority Texas A&M has on training future officers for the Armed Forces, it was an easy choice to accept my admittance and come here. Because I applied later in the application process, I had to attend Texas A&M Galveston for a year as part of the Galveston Engineering Program. This program allows students who aren’t accepted to the main campus to attend the Galveston campus while they complete a set amount of coursework. Once those courses are completed in Galveston, you’re then allowed to transfer over to the main campus. While I was in the program, I was a member of the Galveston Corps of Cadets and the friends I made there only solidified the fact that this path was right for me,” Oscar said.
With the map towards becoming an Air Force officer becoming clearer, Oscar was certain of one thing:
His desire to become a pilot.
“Since I was in elementary school, I had dreamed of becoming a pilot. There was a small airfield down the street from my school, so every day at recess I’d look up and watch the planes flying over. My initial goal in joining the Air Force was to become a pilot and later on a test pilot. During my senior year of college, I was selected to become a pilot after commissioning and I was ecstatic,” Ibanez said.
Though he’d dreamed of flying for the majority of his life, Oscar’s life took an unexpected turn that put his pilot plans at odds.
“Unfortunately, after being selected, I went to my flight physical and things didn’t go as planned. Losing my pilot slot for something completely out of my control was devastating, and at first, and I wasn’t sure what to do next.”
Still determined to become a pilot, Oscar began to research the opportunities that were available to him as someone with an engineering background.
“At this point I knew I was going to be an engineer upon commissioning, so I started looking into what was available to me career wise with that. Through my research, I found that Test Pilot School picks up both pilots and engineers for the program, and better yet, both get to fly. After I knew that I could still get into the cockpit as an engineer, I began the process to earn approval from the Air Force to start my master’s,” Ibanez explained.
As he was seeking approval from the Air Force to begin the Master of Science in Aerospace Engineering program, Oscar was presented with the opportunity of a lifetime.
“I was selected to participate in the Air Force Institute of Technology’s Civilian Institution Program. I was able to find this new path through perseverance and, more importantly, through the unwavering support of my buddies from the Corps, my family and my mentors. Without those people, I’d never be where I am now,” Ibanez said.
Through the Civilian Institution Program, Ibanez chose to continue his education at Texas A&M, where he currently studies under Dr. Rodney Bowersox in the National Aerothermochemistry Lab.
“The Civilian Institution Program allows Air Force officers to attend civilian institutions in pursuit of their graduate degrees as a duty assignment. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some incredibly gifted stu
dents in the lab. Both the Chemistry and Aerospace students that I’m privileged to work with are some of the most gifted people I’ve ever met. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet and work alongside a few U.S. Air Force Academy graduates. It’s been a great experience so far. Working with a diverse group of people in my lab has provided me with a brand-new environment to work in, which is something I haven’t had before. I love it,” Ibanez said.
Within the National Aerothermochemistry Lab, Ibanez is able to work closely with projects pertaining to research in hypersonic weapons.
“As of now, I’m attached to a project with the Bush Combat Development Complex where I do research for the Army Futures Command. I assist PhD students with and run experiments in the Hypersonic Expansion Tunnel at our Easterwood National Aerothermochemistry Lab facility. In these experiments, we run at speeds anywhere from Mach 6 to 23, depending on the experiment,” Ibanez explained.
What seemed like a roadblock in Ibanez’ pilot dreams ended up being what he calls a blessing in disguise.
“With the help of my faith, my dad, my mentors, the many military officers in my life and my Corps buddies, I was able to find something that made the outcome of that flight physical exam feel like a blessing in disguise. I couldn’t be happier with where I am rightnow. I couldn’t be more excited to have this opportunity as my first officer assignment. This opportunity has been an amazing blessing, and I feel like I’m one step closer to my flight test pilot and engineer dreams.”
Ibanez credits his resilience thus far to his experiences with the Corps of Cadets. As the 2020-2021 Commanding Officer of Squadron 12, Oscar is no stranger to leading teams and breaking out of his comfort zone.
“There’s the old phrase, ‘iron sharpens iron’ and the Corps is no exception to that. Being constantly surrounded by motivated, intelligent, head-strong men and women has striking effects on a person. The corps teaches things like perseverance, respect, people skills, and a plethora of other useful skills. The single most important thing I learned during my time as a cadet is that nobody ever does anything alone. It doesn’t matter how great of a leader, how smart or how headstrong someone is, life is a team sport. Nothing worth doing in life is ever easy. The Corps is difficult, but in the best of ways. The friends you meet, the lessons you learn and the memories you create as a cadet are enough to last a lifetime,” Ibanez said.
As he looks forward to the rest of his career with the U.S. Air Force, Ibanez is hopeful that the work he is a part of will benefit our world for years to come.
“The idea of doing my own research and making a real difference in a field so instrumental to our national defense strategy is a beautiful thing. When I retire from the Air Force and the Engineering field, I want to be able to say that I made a difference. I don’t care about being known; what I care about is being able to sit down at the end of the day knowing I bettered the world for everyone in it.”
What seemed like initial defeat for Oscar has transformed into an opportunity to pursue his dreams from a different path. Oscar Ibanez’ story is a shining example of the determined leaders that are created through the Corps of Cadets.
From the classroom, to the boardroom, to the battlefield and beyond, the Corps of Cadets consistently prepares young men and women for our world’s greatest challenges.
Story By: Robin Nelson ’22