May 24, 2019
Throughout his undergraduate tenure at Saint Vincent College, Anthony Vecchio lived a double life.
And it led to him landing his dream job following his recent graduation.
Vecchio, a native of Greensburg, graduated from Saint Vincent College in May with honors with a degree in physics. With physics one of the more rigorous offerings of Saint Vincent’s Herbert W. Boyer School of Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Computing, one could certainly understand if he spent the duration of his four years at Saint Vincent with his head buried in textbooks or furiously scribbling equations hour upon hour.
Instead, Vecchio was also a cadet in the Air Force ROTC, leading to his commission into the Air Force and landing a slot in its flight school.
“I always was subconsciously drawn to airplanes,” he said, “but the decision point to become a pilot was when I flew on U.S. Airways to Honolulu on a marching band trip when I was in the 10th grade. When I returned, I knew I had caught the flying bug and wanted to be a professional pilot.”
Upon making this determination, Vecchio set out to earn his private pilot’s license with an instrument rating, paying for flight school by washing dishes. After earning his license and enrolling at Saint Vincent, his passion for flying persisted, which led to a conversation with his flight instructor.
“I did not know about opportunities in military aviation at the time,” he recalled. “Having served in the Army as a pilot, my instructor recommended I check out ROTC options. That’s when I found out about the crosstown agreement between Saint Vincent and the University of Pittsburgh’s ROTC program. I would be able to attend Saint Vincent as a full-time student, while fulfilling my ROTC obligations at Pitt. I found out what it took to compete for a pilot slot in ROTC and jumped right in.”
Vecchio found out quickly that being a full-time student at Saint Vincent while managing ROTC commitments in Pittsburgh could be challenging.
“It was daunting at first,” he explained, “especially considering the two locations are 40 miles apart and I would be making the commute three or four times a week. Also, most of the cadet corps were already Pitt students themselves. Sometimes, unexpected events would pop up, and I would find myself having to immediately drive to Pittsburgh.”
Though it would have been much more convenient, Vecchio never had any intent to leave Saint Vincent and enroll at Pitt.
“The commute was challenging, but I stuck with it,” he said. “Continuing my education at Saint Vincent, rather than transferring to Pitt, meant that I would have unique benefits like smaller class sizes and professors who truly know and care about their students. To me, that was well worth putting up with the commute.”
Vecchio said that the faculty had the biggest, most positive influence on him during his time at Saint Vincent, as his professors all went out of their way to lend their help as he juggled his rigorous academics with his grueling ROTC schedule.
“Sometimes I had to request to change a class time to accommodate my early morning training at Pitt,” he said, “and my professors worked around my circumstances to make ends meet. Even just their understanding why I might have been a few minutes late to class helped me.”
Along with their support, Vecchio’s professors also continually expressed their genuine interest in his ROTC training.
“I got a lot of questions from professors when they’d see me walking around on campus in uniform,” he said, “and they are always delightful to answer! It was also great to learn that one of our professors, Dr. John Aupperle, was a pilot in the Marines, and his support really boosted my confidence.”
Vecchio also formed a strong bond with his fellow physics majors and was able to demonstrate to them his love of flying when he piloted them on a flight.
“Being a smaller major, we got to know each other quite well,” he said. “Sharing the joy of flight like that with others is always memorable, and I know they enjoyed it.”
His dream finally came to fruition in February when he received word that he had been accepted into pilot training upon his commissioning into the Air Force. In September, he will report to Laughlin Air Force Base in Del Rio, Texas, to begin active duty.
“My reaction was an immediate and immense sense of fulfillment,” he recalled. “I realized that all of the hours of work that I put in, every mile I ran, all of the push-ups at 6 a.m. on Monday mornings and all of the exams I had to take truly did pay off. Naturally, the sense of reward that I felt was great but the sense of purpose – to know that the Air Force wants me to become a pilot for them – is what really hit me. Now, I have a specific mission after college that I must accomplish.”
To those who may want to take up flying, he suggested “to make sure you really want to do it before spending money on training. Although training to fly is daunting at first, it opens up a whole new world and amazing career opportunities and connects you with amazing people.”
He also hopes that he served as an example for SVC students who may want to follow a similar path.
“Don’t be intimidated and just take the plunge,” he advised. “You won’t regret it. I want people to know that the opportunity to do Air Force ROTC at SVC is possible. It really can be done, and now, despite all the odds, I get to be an Air Force officer and train to be a pilot.
“If I can be successful in the Air Force ROTC while at SVC, I want to assure others that they can be, too.”
PHOTO: Anthony Vecchio (left) meets with Alejandro Villanueva, decorated Army veteran and Pro Bowl offensive lineman for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who served as speaker at Saint Vincent College’s May 2019 commencement.
YouTube: Saint Vincent College