AJ Turo ’03 has been affiliated with the US Navy for 16 years, including his time at the US Naval Academy, where he studied physics. During his service, AJ has flown F/A-18s of all varieties, travelled to exotic locales both in and out of the United States, and taught brand new pilots and officers flight specifics and air-to-air combat training.
AJ cites some specific standout experiences during his time in the Navy, which include: flying on the F/A Tactical Demonstration Team where he flew in airshows in Indiana, New Jersey, and Ocean City, Maryland; flying in “Panchito,” a restored B-25; and hanging with the Thunderbirds.
These experiences were made possible for AJ primarily because he was interested in the challenge the Naval Academy presented him and the chance for free tuition. His desire to attend the Naval Academy was further strengthened by experiencing 9/11 as a junior at Trinity, and some pessimism he received about his ability to make it into the Academy in the first place. These motivations helped propel AJ forward despite “having no idea what [he] was getting into.” After he graduated from the Academy he felt that flying was an obvious next step because it provided continued “challenge, excitement, and the chance to be on the front lines.” His hard work paid off, and his role flying F/A-18s gave him the responsibility to “drop and fire some of the most powerful weapons the U.S. owns, take off and land on a carrier day and night, and break the sound barrier. It’s unique, hard, and rewarding work.”
Currently, AJ is a Department Head (similar to a Vice President) of a squadron where he flies as a pilot, but also has the responsibility of managing schedules, budgets (fuel and flight hour allocation), people, and maintenance, which assists the commanding officer in running the squadron. He also teaches younger pilots and is responsible for leading the squadron and air wing’s biggest events.
AJ currently volunteers for The Wingman Foundation, which provides post-mishap support for the Navy and Marine Corps Aviation community and their families. AJ and his wife, Stephanie, have supported 4 mishaps directly and helped with several other fundraising and outreach programs. The team AJ works with is fluid, and his direct responsibilities have been largely with mishap organization and supporting the families through the process, including memorialization, if the mishap was fatal. At this point in his career, AJ has “lost many leaders, friends, and students to fatal mishaps, and while the government tries to take care of the families afterwards, there are still many gaps, and that is where the foundation steps in to help financially and emotionally.”
His experience at Trinity has played a “positive and crucial” in AJ’s life. He named many teachers who played a significant role for him: “Mr. Carr certainly challenged me to be successful in math which I believe helped me greatly at the Academy. Mr. Casey was instrumental in English, which was not my best subject. Speech and student congress pushed me to be a confident speaker which had obvious benefits throughout adulthood. Ms. Dobbie gets a shout out here too. Mr. Cominsky and Ms. Shoemaker gave me a love of history. COBO was the positive leader and mentor we all needed. Really, they all were such positive role models, it’s hard to name people specifically.”
However, “the biggest single experience would easily be that I had the opportunity to do Karios as both a junior and then lead as a senior. I made some of my strongest friendships with my leadership group and had such a great maturing experience as a leader. I can say that I believe our class got closer afterwards, and I was so humbled to have even a small bit to do with it. There is nothing at Trinity like Karios.”
AJ’s next steps include transitioning out of the Navy full-time, which will allow him to spend more time with his wife, Stephanie, and young son, John. He plans to continue to work in the Naval Reserves and will be flying for airlines.