Air Force pilots and cousins recall journey from UOG
Two University of Guam alumni fly for their jobs—at an altitude of tens of thousands of feet.
As pilots in the U.S. Air Force, they share the skies, familial ties as cousins, and a history of having earned degrees at UOG in the same year—both with honors—in 2011.
Capt. Celestino “Torch” Aguon flies an F-15 Eagle fighter jet, while his cousin, Capt. Dustin Quinn Alger, flies a KC-135 Stratotanker.
Stationed in Okinawa, the cousins are on island this month for the Cope North military exercise hosted by Andersen Air Force Base. The exercise involves the United States, Japan, and Australia.
There have been times when Alger’s KC-135 would refuel Aguon’s F-15 at 30,000 feet. When the two pilots are in refueling mode, there would be a “hafa adai” and other Guam-unique chatter, they said, laughing.
And there were also times they’ve flown over Guam and seen not just the island but their alma mater from the air. That feeling of seeing tiny Guam—and even tinier UOG—“It just connects you more—it never gets old,” said Alger.
Paths to becoming pilots
Aguon graduated cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics at UOG. He entered UOG as a merit scholar from George Washington High School.
Alger graduated magna cum laude with a business administration degree specializing in finance and economics and is a graduate of Simon Sanchez High School.
Their UOG degrees and honors, along with their other accomplishments, opened separate paths for them to qualify for Air Force Officer Training School and ultimately meet the rigorous training to be pilots.
“Time management, study habits and problem-solving are the main lessons learned from my education at UOG,” said Aguon. “I remember being in the late Dr. Lynn Raulerson’s Biology 101 Class my freshman year. She was someone who upheld the standard. I remember scoring a ‘C’ on my first major quiz, and that was a huge wake-up call for me after graduating from GWHS in 2006 in the Top 10. I went on to finish her first and second-semester biology courses with an ‘A.’ Her honest and blunt feedback has repeatedly resonated with me throughout my entire aviation career.”
In addition to giving credit to his UOG degree to get into the officer training school, Alger looks to Aguon as a mentor who gave him the idea to apply for a pilot slot in the Air Force.
“It wasn’t until I was looking for opportunities to commission when the pilot kind of career came into my mind—and then actually got in contact with this guy,” said Alger.
Both also credit their respective families’ support.
Family support crucial
Prior to applying to be a pilot, Aguon took flight training with private instructors to build his experience. His parents, Tino and Alicia Aguon, took out a home equity line of credit to support his aspirations. “It was a huge risk on their part in hindsight,” Aguon said.
Dr. Alicia Aguon is the dean of the School of Education at UOG, who, along with her husband, encouraged their son to pursue a STEM-related degree.
“Our local public and private school students and our UOG graduates—they can compete with anyone and achieve their goals,” Dr. Alicia Aguon said.
Alger also expresses gratitude to his parents, Doris Atalig Leon Guerrero and Paul Alger. His mother served in the Air Force in the medical field, and was last stationed at Andersen Air Force Base, until her recent retirement.
Both pilots give their solid foundation from home—doing chores, focusing on getting a degree, keeping a good work ethic, and aiming for something big career-wise—as part of their successes.
“My mom … my dad, from a young age, they tell me: ‘Always study, do the chores’ …[They were] teaching the foundation and values that carry throughout life,” Alger said.
As pilots, they need to have a clear mind while performing their jobs in the air, and the support from their spouses and inspiration from their young children is important.
“Having the never-ending support from my wife, Tonilynn, and son, Celestino Ace, drastically reduces the stress associated with our line of work, and gives me the motivation to do my best,” Aguon said.
Alger also said he draws his strength from his wife, Christina, and daughter, Liv, who keep up with the challenges of being a military family, including having to move around.
The lessons from UOG and the life lessons they picked up over the years have all combined for the two cousins to achieve their career goals even when challenges came up.
“There are times when you get knocked down, but the thing is, you learn from it; you get back up and you just try again,” Alger said.
Aguon said focusing on finding solutions instead of getting stuck on setbacks can help people get through.
UOG offers advantages
He said UOG offers the advantage of not having to leave home and not having to worry about the high cost of college expenses with colleges beyond Guam.
“Attending the University of Guam is great since the cost of education is more affordable in relation to other stateside schools. I remember feeling the pressure to attend an off-island university, which would make sense if I was looking to pursue a degree that isn’t offered at UOG. However, as a former merit scholar, I’m relieved that I didn’t finish college with an exorbitant amount of debt and was still able to achieve my overall goal,” Aguon said.
For Alger, the UOG education he received is a takeoff point for more opportunities to pursue. “Take everything you learn from UOG, apply it to your daily life, but also realize, like don’t close off opportunities because you never know what pops up.”(PR)