Face of Defense: Georgia Native Lives Dream as Marine Pilot
By Marine Corps Caleb Eames
3rd Marine Expeditionary Force
SINGAPORE , Feb. 19, 2014 As a youngster growing up in the Georgia countryside, Marine Corps 1st. Lt. William E. Wiggins spent his fair share of time in the dirt and dust, farming and plowing. But overhead, the bright blue sky was calling.
Marine Corps 1st. Lt. William E. Wiggins with his aircraft at the Singapore International Airshow, Feb. 13, 2014. Marine Corps photo by Capt. Caleb D. Eames
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
Wiggins, 27, of Rome, Ga., is a KC-130J Super Hercules pilot with Marine Refueler Transport Squadron 152 based out of Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa, Japan. And he is living a dream.
“Although I am a new guy to the squadron, I am working my way up the qualifications to aircraft commander,” he said. “Who could have imagined that a Georgia boy would make it so far?”
Wiggins, who has been with the squadron since August 2012, has about five years in the Marines. He spent part of his childhood as an inner-city youth. When he was 12, his family relocated to Cartersville, Ga., and he spent time as a country boy, fishing, hunting and camping.
Wiggins played football from age 4 to 23, including playing for Shorter College as a nose guard. At the time, he was 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighed 240 pounds. Football has been instrumental throughout his life, he said, with many applications for him as a Marine.
“What influenced me to become a Marine was the fact that my great-grandfather was an enlisted Marine grunt wounded on Iwo Jima, my father served as Marine infantry in Vietnam, and my brother was a Marine heavy equipment operator in Camp Lejeune,” Wiggins said. “I almost went to the enlisted side, but because I had my college education, my recruiter pointed me to the way of Officer Candidate School.”
Wiggins spent his remaining time in college working with the Marine recruiters, teaching local Marines-to-be who were awaiting going to boot camp, and mentoring young adults. He said that set him up for success with leadership attributes for his future as a Marine officer.
“Where I came from, my family had tough times, but I was taught at a young age to work hard and be respectful and to appreciate everything we had. We farmed, plowed fields, built chicken coops and toiled in the dirt and sun, and never thought I would make it this far. Now I wake up and fly a $100 million aircraft. I do not consider myself a smart guy -- just very blessed.”
Though being a pilot requires a lot of work, Wiggins just puts one foot in front of the other. “I took only one math class in college, and now I’m a pilot.” Wiggins has a preflight ritual that involves wearing a hat, gloves and keeping a set of patches in his pocket each time he flies. This goes back to his football years in Georgia, he explained -- the helmet became a hat, his sports gloves became flying gloves, and the patches are from each of his previous units.
“Every pilot has a ritual before they fly, whether they admit it or not," he said. "Spending most of my life suiting up for football, it just feels right to suit up to fly as well.”
The best parts of his job are traveling and working with the crew in a small tight-knit team. "With our C-130s the Marines take the airplane and crew, and go accomplish the assigned task far from the flagpole with our commander’s intent." Wiggins and his team travel the entire Pacific Ocean, covering thousands of miles, giving the Marine Corps a strategic air asset and bringing tremendous capability and crisis response preparedness for the United States in the Asia-Pacific region.
“The most challenging part of my job is that at the end of the day, once I’m done flying, I’m not done working. I still have to plan, do paperwork, do my ground jobs and then spend time with family. If all I had to do was fly, it would be simple.”
Wiggins is married, and his wife is pregnant, so family time is very important to him.
“I joined the Corps to do the most good that I could, and I know from my time growing up what a real commitment requires,” Wiggins said. “Whenever I have infantry or ground-side Marines on the plane, I know they are counting on me. I am just a cog in the wheel supporting the ground guys. I am the ground operators’ enabler, I am the fast-mover’s refueling enabler, I am the parachutists’ enabler, getting them where they need to go at the right time and place. I want other Marines to know when the C-130 is planned in the mission, they don’t have to worry about us being there when needed.”
Wiggins’ squadron is at the Singapore International Airshow, the largest defense exhibition in Asia, to showcase the capabilities of the KC-130J Super Hercules for international audience. The airshow promotes interoperability among participating nations, and represents an opportunity to engage the region in military-to-military discussions.