Sometime next month, Lt. Robert Consiglio will guide his U.S. Air Force C-130J over the mountains of Afghanistan, possibly aiming to land on a narrow, dirt strip.
Thick humidity and high elevation may add to the challenge of guiding the 80,000-pound "Super Hercules" to a safe landing, especially if it's loaded with some 30,000 pounds of fuel and equipment for soldiers in combat.
Despite the challenges, Consiglio will be right at home, living his dream.
It's a long way from playing tuba in the Bloomingdale High School band.
When Consiglio, currently stationed at Dyess Air Force Base in Abilene, Texas, deploys for Afghanistan next month, his assignment will be a subtle reminder for us back home that we continue to be a nation at war. Not surprisingly, it's a role he embraces despite his laid-back attitude.
"I'm excited to get over there and actually do something," said Consiglio, who spoke with a gleam over burgers at Green Iguana on Tuesday.
The path to Air Force pilot began earnestly for Consiglio when he was a Bloomingdale senior in 2005. He earned an appointment to the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo., and began to embrace the discipline and structure of the military — along with weather that's a bit colder than Tampa Bay's mild winters.
"I wasn't a fan of winter up there," Consiglio laughed. "Snow is fun — for about the first day."
Engineering was his first career goal, but he emerged from the academy with a ticket to pilot training.
Naturally, I asked if he dreamed of Top Gun and being the Air Force's version of Maverick or Iceman. Pilots, he said, often end up paired with aircraft that match their personalities, and the C-130 matched his more easygoing persona.
Fighter pilots end a mission full of intensity and immediately go through formal debriefings. C-130 pilots land, take care of a few things, and then look to start the grill and have a good time.
Don't think for a minute, however, that Consiglio doesn't bring expertise and passion to his job. He recently participated in a record-breaking formation of 16 C-130J planes at Dyess.
"It's awesome," Consiglio said of being a pilot. "You feel very free, like you can do anything. It's every empowering.
"It's really fulfilling," Consiglio added. "Everyone I work with is the best or the smartest at what they do. It's really awesome to be around such a good group of high-achieving guys and girls."
On the surface, Consiglio provides us an everyday story of a hometown boy done good, but he also recognizes how blessed he is to have earned this opportunity. The Air Force not only gives Consiglio the chance to pursue his dreams, but the chance to build friendships that will last a lifetime.
No matter what city he visits, he will probably know someone there from his military travels. No matter if he serves 10 years or 25, he can always say, "I served."
When veterans are asked to stand and be recognized at an event, I always look on with admiration — and a little envy.
Some may ask why our nation has chosen to engage in wars and conflicts, but those time-honored traits displayed by the men and women who serve — honor, duty, courage — cannot be questioned.
Consiglio isn't playing the tuba anymore, but if he wanted to toot his own horn, I wouldn't mind at all.
That's all I'm saying.