Erica Renee

“I’m drawn to the hard stuff – that’s why I decided to become a pilot in the Marine Corps. It all came from that sense of achievement I had after I got back from my STEP expedition to Alaska.”
— 1st Lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Osprey Aircraft Pilot, STEP Alum, U.S. Naval Academy Graduate

Erica, who has just earned her wings to be a pilot in the Marines, didn’t have military aspirations before STEP. But another STEP student on the Alaska expedition was applying to the Naval Academy. “Hey, I’ll give it a shot,” Erica remembers thinking. “I came back from Alaska full of confidence – I had experienced something totally off the wall. I was really motivated to go and do something big.”

STEP’s leadership training prepared Erica for success at the Naval Academy. “I was already familiar with a lot of the leadership traits the Navy was looking for in a great officer. STEP’s training was huge for me during my years at the Academy. I was a platoon commander in my senior year – in charge of 40 midshipmen. In that position, you have to be able to manage and motivate people.”

Erica’s openness to new opportunities and challenges made her realize that she wanted to enter the Marines and become a pilot. “I didn’t know I wanted to be a Marine until I got to the Naval Academy. But I became very attracted to that service once I realized the dynamic. For me, the big thing is the relationship between the officers and the enlisted. In the Marine Corps, we’re a team. The officers are in charge of managing and the enlisted are the muscle, but we work as a team. There’s a high level of respect.”

Stress management was a key factor in Erica’s pilot training, which requires a number of tests (APIs). “I was just a ball of stress,” Erica says about the APIs. “If you fail, you’re out. You’re done. It’s a weeding out process. Everyone is trying to kick you out, see how you’re going to fail. In a way, it was like Alaska when you get to the halfway point. Little things start to get to you. In Alaska when that happened I learned to slow it down and take things day by day. I just focused on the next thing, one little thing at a time. I learned how to manage that stress in Alaska, and that definitely helped me during my APIs and is going to serve me for the rest of my life.”

When it comes to the “big picture”, Erica is different from most of her peers in the Marines, who eventually want to retire and fly for private airlines. “I don’t want to do that,” Erica says decisively. She has made a commitment to fly Osprey Aircrafts for seven years and will consider extending her service for longer. “But if I retire, I definitely want to get involved with STEP or an organization like STEP. I want to inspire people, just like STEP did for me. I would love to complete the cycle.”