by Staff Sgt. Eric Burks
U.S. Air Forces Central Command Public Affairs
12/21/2012 - KANDAHAR AIRFIELD, Afghanistan (AFNS) -- In
2001, three students -- each in a different grade -- shared the halls
and classrooms of DuBois Area High School in rural Pennsylvania.
This month, those former students had a unique hometown reunion,
stepping aboard a C-130J Super Hercules as Airmen on an airlift mission
to transport cargo and passengers from Kandahar Airfield to other bases
The three Airmen are from different career fields and home duty
stations, but their overlapping deployments provided an opportunity for
the unique flight.
Staff Sgt. Jonathan Snyder, an Air Force Central Command Combat Camera
photojournalist, had stayed in touch with 1st Lt. John Fugate, a 772nd
Expeditionary Airlift Squadron pilot and long-time friend.
"Communicating through Facebook, we realized we would be deployed at
roughly the same time," Snyder said. "My combat camera team travels all
over Afghanistan, so I was hoping we'd have a chance to fly with
Before that happened, Snyder would meet another DAHS graduate -- Tech.
Sgt. Dave Hoffer, a 772nd EAS loadmaster -- during a flight out of a
small forward operating base in October.
"When I first saw John (Snyder), he looked familiar, but I didn't know
who he was," Hoffer said. "We started talking about the weather ...
after I said how I missed the weather in central Pennsylvania where I'm
from, he said, 'Me too!' Then we learned not only had we gone to the
same high school, but were from the same small town."
As it turned out, Snyder and Hoffer grew up just one mile apart in Rockton, Pa., population 889, according to the 2010 census.
It was another coincidence that Hoffer and Fugate were members of the
same squadron -- Hoffer typically worked the opposite shift as Fugate as
part of a different aircrew.
"Ironically enough, I just found out a couple days ago," Fugate said. "I
knew he was part of the loadmaster community through his sister, who I
graduated high school with, but I never put two and two together that he
was actually part of our unit. The different crews, we don't see each
other that much, all of us being on different schedules, so it's
difficult sometimes to interact with each other."
Before they were Airmen, Hoffer was the first of the trio to graduate
from DAHS, in the summer of 2001. Fugate was completing his first year
there, and Snyder would be an entering freshman that fall ... just as
Hoffer's Air Force career was beginning.
"I enlisted in the Air Force a month after graduation," Hoffer said. "I
didn't have a college plan, and both my grandparents had served in the
military around the Korean War time frame. They're still alive today and
I grew up looking at them as my role models. The sense of duty that
they had, I wanted part of me also. It just seemed natural for me to
join the military."
Hoffer initially wanted to be an air traffic controller, but ultimately became a loadmaster.
"The life of a loadmaster is great," he said. "We're challenged with
many different tasks, and different aspects of our job change all the
time. There's a lot of problem-solving involved, and I really enjoy
Meanwhile, Fugate, who had always wanted to be a pilot, applied to
attend the U.S. Air Force Academy. He received an appointment to the
Academy's Preparatory School and began his own career as a cadet
candidate in 2004.
"I was inspired by my cousin, a graduate from West Point, and a C-130
pilot from an airshow that I remember going to and being awed by all the
aircraft," Fugate said. "The pilot told me 'You can do anything you
want.' At that point I decided I wanted to be a pilot."
In 2005, Fugate earned an appointment to the Academy, and was soon a
college freshman of the Class of 2009. At the same time, Snyder
graduated from DAHS, and began basic training in October after a short
wait in the Air Force's Delayed Entry Program.
Although their active-duty careers began around the samte time, it would be years before they would meet again.
"For me, there's a sense of irony," Fugate said. "I left DuBois right
after high school, went to Colorado for five years of college, then
spent three years going through pilot and C-130 training. During that
entire time, I never ran into a single soul from DuBois. Then I come out
to Afghanistan, and suddenly I'm surrounded by people that I remember
from high school and growing up."
Hoffer moved briefly from his usual night shift to a day shift to make the flight a possibility.
"This is a once-in-a-lifetime deal to fly with guys that grew up in the
same place as me," he said. "It's pretty cool and I'll definitely
Lt. Col. Ken Gjone, 772nd EAS commander, said, "One of the strengths of
the Air Force is our diversity, bringing together people from all walks
of life to accomplish our mission. In this case, however, having three
home-town heroes all graduated from the same high school come together
and perform different jobs on an airlift mission to an austere dirt
landing strip in Afghanistan -- that's an unbelievable coincidence.
DuBois Area High School and the central Pennsylvania community should be
And that's certainly the case, according to Sam Bundy, an English teacher at the high school.
"As an Air Force veteran, I spoke with all three of these students about
serving and am really glad to see how well they are doing," he said.
"DuBois High has a proud tradition of students serving in the military,
and these graduates are a great example of that."
That Pennsylvania pride runs deep -- not just from within the community, but between its Airmen who serve.
"Having a chance to fly with this crew definitely makes me proud of the
town I'm from and proud of the people around me," Hoffer said.
"I really think that the country as a whole develops quality
servicemembers," Fugate added. "But I think that the mentality in
DuBois, especially at the high school, does foster a sense of ownership
for your country -- that you want to step up and defend it."