A soldier with the Virginia National Guard, U.S. Army Sgt. Courtney Yerger is using her civilian expertise to save soldiers hundreds of dollars by providing a free aviation curriculum during her downtime while deployed to Kosovo.
The cost of obtaining a pilot’s license can be between $4,000 and $15,000, depending on the location, type of aircraft used, instructor experience, and the student’s learning pace. Yerger knows all too well the financial hardships that come with becoming a civilian aviator. She received a commercial pilot’s certificate and two flight instructor certificates from Liberty University and was a flight instructor at the school before her deployment.
Currently based at Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo, as a geospatial intelligence imagery analyst with the VaARNG’s 116th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, for NATO’s Kosovo Force, Yerger spends her Tuesday evenings helping soldiers pursue their interests in aviation by offering a cost-free curriculum.
Since deploying to Kosovo earlier this year, dozens of soldiers have asked her to host a class on an aviation ground course.
“When I had the interest meeting to determine if this was actually something soldiers would be interested in doing, about forty-three people showed up,” she said. “So, I was like ‘Okay, there’s definitely interest here.’”
Many of Yerger’s students travel roughly an hour from other camps throughout Kosovo every Tuesday after the duty day to Camp Bondsteel in order to attend her class.
U.S. Army 1st Lt. Benjamin Askins, a physician’s assistant assigned to Kentucky National Guard’s Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 1st Battalion, 149th Infantry Regiment, travels from Camp Novo Selo, Kosovo, to attend each week. “This was something on my bucket list for a while, but I never had the opportunity or money to pursue it before,” Askins said. “When I found out that there was an opportunity to attend the course, combined with the free price, it was just perfect.”
One of the first requirements in obtaining a private pilot's certificate is to be endorsed by a flight instructor and take a knowledge test, which can cost upwards of $400 in the civilian sector, something Yerger provides her students for free, she said. Soldiers who complete Yerger’s class in its entirety will receive her endorsement and will then be eligible to take the knowledge test.
“The goal of the class is that if they show up, do the work, and show me they’ve put in the effort, then I can endorse them,” she said. “Then they can take the test and have these steps done before they go to a flight school and start learning the flying portion.”
Yerger’s class benefits not only the soldiers she teaches but also her as well by keeping her up to date with knowledge and preparing coursework.
“The students here are keeping me current with the knowledge by asking questions and being engaged,” she explained. “In a lot of ways, they teach me with their perspectives, understandings and with what they bring to the table as well.”
She hopes that her knowledge and understanding of aviation regulations and standard operating procedures will give her an advantage when submitting her application to become a warrant officer.
Her goal is to pursue the instructor pilot warrant officer track, which could take upwards of two years to complete if accepted.
“I know Virginia hasn’t had any female instructor pilots yet in the Guard, so that’s something I would like to break into,” she said. “But until then, I’m planning on going back to instructing at Liberty after the deployment.”