Jamestown Native Shines In Air Force

Though introduced more than 30 years ago, the F-16 Fighting Falcon is considered one of the most capable and highly celebrated fighter jets in the U.S. military.

For many, it’s a rare sight; cropping up mostly in news programs, documentaries or perhaps even the latest action flick on the big screen.

But for 25-year-old Jamestown native Kyle Baglia, the F-16 is much more than an illusion or an ephemeral image dotting the sky – it’s a part of his everyday life.

And in many ways, its ultimate success depends on his own.

As an F-16 crew chief at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas, Baglia holds the critical – and often grueling – responsibility of ensuring jets are both mission-ready and properly maintained.

With 14- to 16-hour days consisting of flight inspections, servicing, launch and recovery, munitions loading or unscheduled maintenance repairs, Baglia is part of an integral, behind-the-scenes group of individuals who dedicate their time and energy to pilot safety and the accomplishment of their missions.

“You’re basically responsible for a $32 million aircraft,” Baglia said. “You’re the first and last person (the pilots) see when they go up in the air. You’re the manager of the jet – you’re in charge.”

Indeed, while such a responsibility may seem overwhelming for a typical 25-year-old, Baglia – who’s currently a senior airman assigned to the 64th Aggressor Squadron – has become a bit of a stand-out.

Since joining the Air Force in 2011, he’s accrued a number of awards for his work, including the 57th (Aircraft Maintenance Squadron) Airman of the Quarter Award as well as the 57th Wing Airman of the Quarter Award – the latter of which is a base-wide award given to a single individual among hundreds.

Modestly, Baglia considers “doing the job right” as the ultimate reward.

“Just knowing that you’re the one responsible for making that jet fly and have pilots complete their mission that’s the reward,” he said. “I like seeing pilots come back.”

Baglia, of course, knows all too well that his success in the Air Force is not a fluke, but rather the result of a strong work ethic, and perhaps more potently, a childhood passion for all things military.

“He’s always had a fascination with jets,” said Karen Baglia, Kyle’s mom. “We used to take (Kyle and his sister) to air shows in Niagara Falls (when they were kids). We even centered one of our family vacations around Langley, Virginia, so (Kyle) could see the jets.”

Though she suspected Kyle might likely join the military, Karen Baglia still describes the moment as emotionally trying.

“When you’re a parent, this isn’t your first option for what you want your son or daughter to do especially with everything that’s going on overseas,” she said. “I remember looking at (Kyle) right in his eyes and asking him, ‘Why you?’ He didn’t hesitate … he looked right back at me and said, ‘If I don’t do it, who will?'”

Baglia, a 2006 graduate of Jamestown Area High School and 2010 graduate of Fredonia University, enlisted in the Air Force shortly afterward, volunteering to become a crew chief when he heard there was a shortage.

After going through boot camp at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, and receiving technical training at Sheppard Air Force Base (also in Texas), Baglia shipped off to his first duty station in Osan, South Korea.

Since then, he has traveled to a variety of other locations, including Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska, where he participated in an elaborate war game drill with foreign militaries.

“When I was in college, I knew I wanted to do something different,” Baglia said. “I just knew that the military was the right thing to do. After a while, it feels like a normal job but when you stop to think about it, you realize you’re doing all these crazy things. It’s a dream come true.”

This Memorial Day, Karen Baglia and her husband Joseph, know full well the pride and concern associated with being military parents.

“People who don’t have family in the military don’t understand how difficult these holidays are,” Karen Baglia said. “One percent of the total population of the U.S. is willing to (serve) out of their own sense of patriotism. It’s not for money or glory … it’s simply their desire to serve. So we’re very proud that (Kyle), with a college degree and having potential for other venues, chose to serve.”