They make us proud: A pilot comes full circle

Posted: November 15, 2021

Ohio State’s ties to the military date back to its earliest years. The first recorded classes in military tactics and drill were held in 1874. In recent years, Ohio State has been named one of the best universities for veterans. In observance of Veterans Day, Ohio State Alumni Magazine shared stories about veterans whose service exemplifies Ohio State values. One of those stories is that of aviation management alumna Emily Kubusek.

A pilot comes full circle

A lot can change in a classroom over a 15-year span, but U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Emily Kubusek ’06 believes the lessons many students in ROTC programs want to be taught remain timeless.

A woman in a green Air Force uniform makes gestures while conversing with a student wearing green camo; the student is facing away from the camera.
U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Emily Kubusek speaks with cadet KP Casey-Jobczynski. Photo by Jo McCulty

They want to learn about more than the topics in lesson plans, Kubusek says. They want to hear opinions on those topics. They also want to hear about instructors’ real-time experiences applying the lessons.

That’s what Kubusek, who has spent a decade and a half in the Air Force, hopes to provide students in her return to campus. In August, she began a two-year tour as an operations flight commander and assistant professor of aerospace studies for Ohio State’s Air Force ROTC program.

Kubusek, who earned a bachelor’s degree in aviation management, recalls what it was like when she was the one sitting in class quizzing instructors on the challenges they had faced in the line of duty. Now the pupil is the teacher, and Kubusek is tasked with instructing seniors who are on the cusp of their Air Force commissions.

“We teach lessons in order to give them the background and facts. A lot of time we give them the information, and they have to figure out how to go forward with that information,” Kubusek says.

“But you want to know what people think. You want to know what their experiences were like and how they affected them. I’m anticipating the personal stories to go over really well and for them not to just answer questions on the content, but to go deeper.”

Unlike civilian instructors, who may or may not have real-world experience in their fields of expertise, ROTC teachers are active-duty members, Kubusek notes. She recalls the excitement of learning from her detachment commander, Col. Mike Huhn, in the mid-’90s at Ohio State.

“He was a pilot, just like I wanted to be,” Kubusek says. “He was animated, transparent and truthful. That really resonated with me. His experiences showed me who I could be and what I could become.”

Kubusek has logged 1,383 combat hours in KC-135 aircraft, which refuel fighter planes at 30,000 feet. “We are a flying gas station, if you want to think of it like that,” she says. Kubusek cherishes being part of a “crew” that works in unison toward a common goal. The refueling tankers allow fighter planes to continuously provide cover for soldiers on the ground.

“Being part of the whole chain is exhilarating,” Kubusek says.

The Wisconsin native also has a distinguished military family history. Her father, Dennis, enlisted in the Air Force during the Vietnam War. Her grandfather, Stanley, was an infantryman in World War II, arriving on Omaha Beach three days after D-Day and earning a Purple Heart.

Her own story is an example of how the military has changed since she was a student. As of last year, 708 of 10,964 Air Force pilots, or about 6.5%, were women, according to Air Force Magazine. Kubusek says the most recent figure she’s seen is closer to 10 percent.

A year ago, the Air Force discarded its decades-old height standards, which had disqualified nearly half of female candidates, according to a Washington Post report. The revised guidelines are part of an effort to eliminate gender-based obstacles in a service whose leadership and pilot corps are overwhelmingly male.

“I totally believe people need to see who they can become,” Kubusek says. “So, if by seeing me, a young woman who never thought she could become a pilot, gives it a try, I’ve done my part.

“I feel a great responsibility to represent my gender well and show the next generation of women who they can be. It’s nothing I can’t handle.”


by Tom Reed, a writer for DK Pittsburgh sports and a former writer for The Athletic, The Columbus Dispatch, Cleveland Plain Dealer, Akron Beacon Journal and Warren Tribune.

This exerpt originally appeared in the Ohio State Alumni Magazine. Click here to read the full story.

Category: Alumni