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Reserve philanthropist develops e-course to help others fly

  • Published
  • By Carolyn Herrick
  • 4th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

When she was a little girl, Capt. Kristin “Nikki” Bodie, 77th Air Refueling Squadron KC-46 pilot, used to lay in the grass with her grandmother on their farm in rural Saluda, South Carolina, and watch the fighter jets from nearby Shaw Air Force Base and McEntire Joint National Guard Base fly overhead, wondering where they were going and what it would be like to fly through the clouds.

Her journey to become an Air Force pilot took years, and she flew all around the world in order to reach her goal, but Bodie took the things she’s learned and developed an online course to help others find their path more easily.

‘Girls Don’t Fly Planes’

Bodie remembers sitting in church as young as 5 years old, hearing the preacher talk about serving in the military or as a missionary and thinking, “He’s talking about me. Someday, I am going to leave my family and serve.”

Her love of watching airplanes spurred a strong desire to fly them.

“Every time I mentioned becoming a pilot, teachers in school would say, ‘Girls don’t do that,’” Bodie said. “I didn’t know of any female pilots, so I believed them – until I got to college and a good friend took flight lessons and asked if I wanted to go on a flight.” 

Bodie, who was attending Clemson University, immediately fell in love with being in the air.

Determined to become a professional pilot, she enrolled in a program at Embry Riddle University. Upon completion of her MBA in aviation management and obtaining her flight ratings, Bodie landed her first flying job doing aerial survey in a Cessna 172. As a brand new pilot, she was in charge of all aspects of each mission, from coordination to logistics, refueling and maintenance.

“That taught me a lot about myself as a person and pilot,” she said. “I was out there traveling the country by myself with nothing but my suitcase and this tiny little airplane. It put me out of my comfort zone and made me more confident.”

Giving Back

After eight months, Bodie began flying mapping missions in the King Air 200s, working seven days followed by seven days off. Looking to fill her time off, Bodie found Wings of Hope, a humanitarian organization that flies to highly remote locations to provide lifesaving care interventions to people who have never have a chance to see a doctor.

This mission was close to her heart for personal reasons.

“When I was around 8 years old, I watched my cousin Loren struggle through leukemia, so it meant a lot to me to fly these missions,” said Bodie. “When my cousin died, it was so impactful; my entire life, I knew I needed to give back.”

As the only young woman volunteering, Bodie had to work hard to build her credibility there.

“I would clean the hangar, mop, and trade apple dumplings and pecan pie to learn,” she said.

There, she learned to weld, do engine overhauls, change gears, fabrication, upholstery and more. After a few months, she began flying children with terminal illnesses and disabilities around the country for treatment.

Bodie became more and more involved with Wings of Hope, eventually becoming a board member and assisting on a global level. She also started volunteering in the organization’s summer SOAR into STEM program, partnering with Boeing to bring high-risk youth into the hangar to mentor them.

“We would talk about the military and show them how to join and get college paid for, to help get them out of situations they’re in and into something fulfilling,” she said.

Becoming a Citizen Airman

“Pretty much from the minute I first flew at Clemson in 2009, I wanted to join the military,” Bodie said. “For years, I tried to email my package to all the units I was interested in and was not getting any response.”

By 2015, Bodie was finished with her MBA, fully rated, and working for Republic Airlines as a first officer flying the Embraer 170. Through all those years, that nagging feeling that she would serve in the military had never left.

Standing out among her peers with higher education and 3,000 flying hours, she was selected for Officer Training School and Undergraduate Pilot Training after a recruiter suggested Bodie put in an unsponsored package. Several squadrons called to interview her, and she joined the 916th Air Refueling Wing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, North Carolina, as a KC-135R Stratotanker pilot.

“It was a backward way of doing things and a very hard way to get into the Reserve,” said Bodie, who jokes that she had to fly all the way around the world to get to her goal of serving in the military.  

Forging an Affordable Path for Others

Driven by a desire to help others streamline the process of obtaining a pilot’s license, joining the military, and volunteering, Bodie found and connected with BogiDope, an aviation career consulting resource, and became their first female coach. For a year, Bodie researched and compiled all the best resources into “Affordable Paths for Launching Your Aviation Career,” a free e-course for aspiring aviators. It contains information about scholarships, guidance on how to create a winning application, in-depth explanations of military assistance programs for enlisted personnel, and information about tools and resources available to aspiring and current pilots.

“If it helps one person win a scholarship or figure a path they didn’t know about, the entire year working on it and years building up to are worth it,” she said.

Bodie has helped several Airmen in her reserve unit, including Senior Airman Antonio Frost, a KC-46 crew chief from Florence, South Carolina, who is entering his senior year of college hoping to commission and become a pilot.

“If she wasn’t helping me, I would probably be paying for the remainder of my flight hours out of pocket,” said Frost, who is in the process of applying for a $20,000 scholarship with Bodie’s assistance. “She showed me the e-course for scholarships and grants and is helping me write an essay and submit other documents.”

While volunteering at a convention for military aviators, Bodie’s dream of flying for a major airline materialized. She now flies the Airbus 320 as a first officer for American Airlines in addition to her Air Force Reserve commitment and spends countless hours pouring into others through myriad philanthropic outlets. Bodie is now the vice president of the North Carolina chapter of Women in Aviation, which awards women scholarships to fly, internationally.

“I always thought my gift was aviation,” said Bodie. “During COVID when everything was paused, I had an epiphany: my gift is not flying, my gift is my compassion and my love for people and wanting to help them any way I can. God gave me airplanes as a vehicle to spread my compassion more.  I would always do it, but with airplanes I can do it on a larger scale through the world.”

To access Bodie’s free e-course, visit https://bogidope.com/courses/affordable/