After a five-year stint in the Marine Corps, Chief Warrant Officer 5 David Longoria aspired to make a life on the music scene in Nashville, Tennessee. It’s a good thing for the Army that didn’t work out.
Though his father served two tours in Vietnam, Longoria’s mother was the impetus for his decision to serve. Raised in Corpus Christi, Texas, he was inspired by the woman who left Mexico at 14 and was issued a U.S. work visa to be a nanny.
“It really just came to a sense of service to the country that’s been so good to her and my family – all the opportunities that have been given to me because they provided her the opportunity to succeed,” he said. “She got her citizenship … and would not accept the life that was presented in front of her. I wish somebody would write a song about this: I always call it ‘a purse and a prayer’ – that's all she had.”
Longoria knew he wanted to be in the military to repay the debt of gratitude he said he owed this country, but saw himself more like Tom Cruise circa 1986 in “Top Gun.”
“I really wanted to go to the Naval Academy and I had the work ethic but my aptitude just wasn't there. My scores were just above average – which was not going to be competitive, and I knew that,” he said. “I even actually joined Navy [Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps] in high school halfway through my junior year. I was a baseball player [and] basketball player … ROTC is not what you do – jocks just don't do that.”
In reality, he enlisted in the Marine Corps as an avionics technician and began working toward a college degree. For two years after that, he tried his hand at being a civilian – 10 months in Nashville and the rest of the time working on aircraft in North Carolina.
“I can sing, I play guitar, but I can't write and that really put me at a disadvantage because there's a lot of people who can sing and play guitar,” he said. “I couldn't distinguish myself.”
Back in North Carolina, a retired sergeant major suggested that he join the Army as a warrant officer instead.
“I knew nothing about that,” he said. “Six months later, there I was going to Warrant Officer Candidate School and learning how to ‘talk Army.’”
That sealed Longoria’s fate.
After completing all the requisite training, he spent a few years in Korea as an aviation warrant officer. While there, he and his wife adopted a little girl who was the same age as a daughter Longoria had from a previous relationship.
Apart from deployments, most of the remainder of Longoria’s two-decade career was spent at Hunter Army Airfield, Georgia, and Fort Rucker, Alabama.
Now working for U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command as a test pilot and government flight representative with Aviation Center Logistics Command, Longoria describes himself as “the guy the information goes through.”
“I ensure that the aircraft are presented in a way that the school house can accomplish their mission – on time and on target,” he explained. “I routinely have meetings with the school house whenever they have needs or concerns … and I’m also still a guest instructor pilot for evaluations for just about any school I’m qualified for … I’m qualified to do all [of that] so I can still keep flying as well as doing maintenance here.”
The U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence touts its mission to train, educate and develop Army Aviation professionals and integrate indispensable aviation capabilities across warfighting functions in support of commanders and Soldiers on the ground. It’s where Army aviation begins. ACLC supports USAACE by providing the full spectrum of maintenance, supply and contractor oversight to guarantee availability for all aviation training requirements.
So, although Longoria didn’t see himself doing this exact thing in the Army, he said he’s glad things have worked out this way.
From his current role as a maintenance officer with ACLC to being an instructor pilot, flight platoon leader and standardization officer to his time in 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, Longoria has seen and done just about all an aviation warrant officer can in the Army.
“I didn’t know what I didn’t know,” he said. “And now that I do know, I like working here on Fort Rucker because I enjoy presenting an opportunity and seeing these young students grow. One of the things I participate in is every time a class is graduating … we [have a time] where guys from different walks of Army life will sit down and talk with the warrant officers and lieutenants and I'll give them my take on what a warrant officer is supposed to do when they get [to their units] and what lieutenants are supposed to do when they get to where they're going and that's really rewarding to see them grow.”
Not only does he mentor junior pilots, Longoria also strives to be a positive role model to his family.
“I try to be an example to not only my immediate family but also [to my] nieces and nephews and my goddaughter. I just want to be a good example for them.”
As he prepares to retire later this year, Longoria said he has a great appreciation for the opportunity to play a role in the future of Army aviation. And while the short-timer said it’s a bit too early to know what his post-Army career will be, he envisions doing something akin to what he does now.
“I still see myself going back and teaching [in initial rotary wing],” he said. “I remember when I got in that aircraft for the very first time. I'd never been in a helicopter and we picked up and I couldn't take that smile off. I'm like, ‘This is ridiculous. I can't stop smiling,’” … so I hope to see that same smile and that same look on their faces.”
As he prepares to transition into the next phase of his life, he’ll continue to deep-sea fish off his 23-foot boat and making custom fishing rods.
And who knows? He may still write that song after all; a purse and a prayer brought him pretty far.