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Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Castillo invents a program, calling it iFly
Staff Sgt. Jose Castillo stands next to the wall of military patches above his desk at the 537th Airlift Squadron, Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, March 28, 2012. The patches have been collected throughout his career and, for him, represent his commitment to his job. Castillo serves as the aviation resource management noncommissioned officer in charge. While serving there, he created a computer program called "iFly," that tracks training for pilots. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)
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Air Force Staff Sgt. invents iFly program

Posted 4/5/2012   Updated 4/5/2012 Email story   Print story


by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett
JBER Public Affairs

4/5/2012 - JOINT BASE ELMENODRF-RICHARDSON, Alaska -- There's a new computer-based program designed to track the training status for pilots. It's called "iFly," invented by Air Force Staff Sgt. Jose Castillo, 3rd Wing aviation resource management. It may become the new standard for the Pacific Air Forces.

The path that led to this program shines with the very meaning behind the Air Force's education benefits, the willpower to exceed expectations, the payoff of hard work, and a strong sense of family.

"I was born in TorreĆ³n, Coahuila, Mexico, 12 hours from the U.S. border with Texas," Castillo said. "My mother is from Puerto Rico, so I got the American citizenship from her. I did kindergarten there, and then we moved to Allende, a town an hour from the border. I did elementary to high school there."

It wasn't long before his world changed.

"My Dad got a job and moved us to San Antonio, Texas," he said. "San Antonio was the first American interaction I ever had. The English that I picked up from the public schools in Mexico was not commonly used in Texas. Everything I know from the English language is more from listening to people talk. I'm still working on the reading and writing because it's my second language; I'm going to classes for that."

Castillo said his grandfather played a large role in what he did next.

"My grandfather was Army Sgt. Maj. Herminio Quiles," he said. "He's the one that talked me into the military style of life, though from the Army side of the house. He told me about his time in Vietnam. He was my inspiration for joining the military life, the Air Force just looked better to me than the Army."

Castillo said, growing up, he dreamt of being a pilot, but language barriers and other challenges curved his path another direction.

"I did have the challenge of English and I didn't have a High School diploma equivalent that the recruiter could use," he said. "I eventually got an American general education degree but at the time, the recruiter didn't talk to me much. The thing is that Southwest Texas Community College in San Antonio took all my credits from Mexico, including the Mexican high school degree. All I had to do was a kind of conversion and they picked it up and the next thing I know, I'm taking classes."

Education opened his door to joining the Air Force.

"Right in the middle of the classes, the recruiter called to ask how I was doing," Castillo said. "I told him I was in college now. I explained that the college took my G.E.D. and my credits from Mexico, so I'm doing classes. The recruiter said to have the college type a letter and he could get me in. I said I'd already paid for books and the semester, so let me finish this up first. Sure enough, I finish my classes and the next thing I know, I'm on the bus to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. I joined the Air Force when I was 21."
The inventor of "iFly" started out as an E-1.

"I came into the Air Force as an airman basic," he said. "I've earned my stripes; they were put there by blood. I could have signed up for six years and made the rank faster but I didn't know what to expect so I figured just let me go in and work my way up. Then I was making more money as an airman basic than I was in Mexico. I thought I was living the dream with $500."

After Basic Military Training, Castillo encountered challenges finding the job that suited him best, including discovering that he was color blind.

"I wasn't even supposed to be at this job," he said. "The Air Force trusted me with my background to be a bomb loader in weapons armament systems with Fighting Falcon F-16s. I went to technical school at Sheppard Air Force Base,Texas, and my color blindness kicked in right in the middle of the class.

"There was a portion where I had to work with color codes in electronics, as we were troubleshooting the system, the instructors said to look for these particular colors. So I looked in there and said they look the same to me. So the instructor pulled me aside and gave me a color test. The next thing I knew, they took me from class and took me to the hospital to do an eye check. They told me I was partially color blind and couldn't work with electronics. So from that day the Air Force pulled me out of the class."
Color blindness severely limited Castillo's options.

"From there they gave me a list of all the jobs I was still qualified to do," he said. "Out of like five jobs, this one wasn't even on the list. I asked a question about this job, aircrew management, do you work with pilots, what's this job about? Somebody in the school house used to be in that job and kind of gave me a quick briefing but at the time I was like I don't want to do that job, let me do something that gets my hands dirty."
He nearly went a different direction entirely.

"The option was to be the communications squadron guy," Castillo said. "The person who fixes telephone lines, that climbs up the pole and starts messing with the switches and whatnot. That's the job I wanted. Of course, the Air Force needs and whatnot, they said I don't think you want this job."

Instead, Castillo was put back on course with his dream.

"I went to Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., my second technical school," he said. "This was for aviation resource management, which is what I do now."

Then disaster struck.

"On the fourth week of this technical school, I got sick," The education advocate said. "This is like Friday in the morning; I came to the front desk and told the guy I don't feel good. I was wearing the old gray physical training uniform, the sweaters, the jacket, and the field jacket; I've got all that on me and I still felt cold. They all looked at me like what's wrong with this guy? They had to call the Blue Rope on standby that happens to be my class instructor. She takes me to the emergency room. The ER says 'man, you're in here for a cold, get out of here.' They sent me away.

"Through the weekend, I still didn't feel better. They take me to the local clinic, a kind of training hospital. They told me I had pneumonia and they had to take me out of school for a week."

Taking a week off during technical school's tight schedule can mean starting over.
"It's technical school; if you miss something, they will push you back," Castillo said. "So I called my instructor and said hey, I'm on quarters, I'm not going to be able to make it this week. She said well, this sort of thing can happen."

Castillo chose to do the unexpected.

"I said to the instructor, I know I haven't been the best in class," he said. "I know I don't have the best grades right now. But I know that if I get two perfect scores for the last two blocks, I can get this class passed with a high score. She kind of laughed at me and said 'Good luck to you, I hope you feel better.'"

Despite the odds, he drove onward. He believed in education and studied hard.
"That week, they gave me medication, but it did not put me to sleep," Castillo said. "I never had a roommate so I'm in that dorm room by myself and I started going through the material for the class. I got better."

He stepped up and challenged the system.

"I go to the technical school classroom and the superintendent for the shop wants me to sign the paperwork and start from scratch," he said. "I tell him that I know how much I've missed from class; but can you give me a test? I've been reading the material. He was surprised.

"They pulled me to the side," he said. "I tell them that in that week that I was out, I read enough to get the basic information from the materials. That's what you need from technical school is the basic information about the job.

"And I pull it off. I get back in the class, the next day I got the test; the first 100 percent. Time goes on, I keep studying the materials. I take the test, the next 100 percent. I got it."
But this struggle wasn't over yet.

"Because I had the pneumonia, even though I graduated, they still kept me for an extra month," Castillo said. "So you see me go from working the front desk to sweeping the school and moving furniture. They kept me busy, but I don't mind. Others would look at me like what are you doing here, and I ask the same question myself. The day they tell me I can go, I grab my little piece of paper saying my quarters are being removed and I can PCS, I'm like get me out of here."

His first assignment introduced him to deployments.

"My first base was the 39th Airlift Squadron located at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas," Castillo said. "This unit, it's a small community. Dyess is the 7th Bomb Wing. It's a small C-130 unit just like here. I earned my first three stripes on that base. Within a week of my relocation to that base, I deployed; five months they sent me away.

"I went to Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan. That first deployment, I think I was the only airman basic on the base. I know this because at the gate I had to go through daily all the Security Forces would see me and say 'hey an airman basic, I haven't seen one of those in years'," he laughed. "So I think I was probably the only one on the whole base. I also deployed to other places, including Al Udeid, Qatar. I've been to Manas and Al Udeid the most. I've actually spent more time off-station than on."

While he was home, he was taking classes and learning a few things about his job.
"From my 39th AS days as an airman basic, I remember the thing the air crews wanted to know the most was how many hours they had as an air crew member, how much training they needed to accomplish, or how much is remaining," Castillo said. "At the time, we had paper products. I was the airman basic in charge of printing these products on a daily basis.

"So, being new to the Air Force, I had a job and I was happy there, but at the same time I was thinking, man, we're burning through all this paper! I would have to take this paper from the binder and update it, so I was thinking there has to be a better way."

All his traveling during this first tour started in him the genesis of an idea that has continued to inspire his career.

"I got invited to participate in a temporary duty assignment with the air crew; they take me to Little Rock Air Force Base, Ark.," Castillo said. "I was working on an exercise where we simulate being deployed; I was working the night shift. I was spending my evenings in Motel 6 because the base didn't have enough rooms for the whole unit.

"Someone said to go to a restaurant with homemade subs. As I walked in, there was a counter, a couple tables, and then a large trophy case on the wall with all these military patches," he recalled. "And I kept thinking, someday I want something similar to that. So I started collecting, and I got my first patch from my grandfather that passed away a couple of years ago."

The air crew class, called Undergraduate Pilot Training, had a patch that holds special meaning to Castillo.

"The UPT students gave me the name 'iFly'," he said. It's on their patch.

Castillo also continued his education, and continued on to his next duty station, Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas.

"I thought of 'iFly' while stationed at Laughlin," he said. "I took a class called Basic Web Based Design, through Southwest Texas College. When I finished that class, I had the idea and started the project but the workload and having a baby kept me away from it.
"Of course, I didn't know anything about this whole computer thing. What I put in the 'iFly' program is from a combination of classes I've taken and am taking, I'm actually applying what I'm learning to the job. This 'iFly' product came out from the computer class that I took.

"I was thinking I could put this together in my mind, and I could provide the information for what these pilots want on a daily basis. They want to see their training, they want to see how many hours they have, and I can provide that there. I built the whole coding from scratch. All this is, is an HTML coding, but the difference is I actually typed the whole thing. When you open it in your computer, you see the program. It's real basic; anyone could have come up with it.

Castillo said he remembers the days of his first assignment, his heart longs to be there for the pilots, and he knows that the world is going digital.

Now stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, he's able to implement his program.

"I've only managed to put this to use here," Castillo said. "It's only used in this unit. I was working for the Operations Support Squadron and doing everything related to air crew flying and training. I was working on the 'iFly' product and jumped at the chance to be part of the 537th Airlift Squadron. I got here before everyone else; I'm the first enlisted person that showed up for this unit. Lt. Col. Eric Knight, C-130 pilot flight commander, was the first officer on site that started getting together this entire unit. This squadron was officially activated in May 2011."

It used to be a Vietnam warrior unit, he said. And his program should make a big difference today.

"With this difference, I'm trying to avoid my days of having no stripes, days of printing paper all the time," he said. "This is the paper-less Air Force, I'm trying to provide a product to my air crew that is easy access to provide the data that they actually need. They have it on paper, but you have to flip through it, highlight it, things like that and I'm trying to narrow it down to a system that's easier to get the data than actually stopping by to see me.

"It's not like Military Personnel, where they give everything to you on computer and want you to figure it out; more like the data is there and is updated on a daily basis. If something is missing, they can actually come and talk to me and say 'Hey, I noticed in my file that this data is not there, what is going on?' So I can make those updates and changes. I've been asked if this could be connected to improve the mission. I think it can."

He got a step closer to his dream.

"This is close to my original goal, to be in a unit with pilots," Castillo said. "They deploy, I deploy; it's like the whole unit's gone. The whole squadron will disappear. Chief Master Sgt. Steve Vaughn, 537th Airlift Squadron superintendent, was moving out as I moved in, so we never got to see each other but we saw the same unit. One unit would deploy and the other would stay behind to the support the local mission, then deploy when they came back. At one point both units were gone. At the time I didn't mind, I was running into U.S. culture and learning the Air Force ways."

Castillo said he has come a long way since his recruiter first turned him away.

"We're very proud of Sergeant Castillo," Vaughn said, "He's done a great job around here pretty much holding the fort down; it's practically a one-man shop right now. He's established a great rapport with our Guardsmen and has been making the mission happen."

Castillo's unit has helped him to realize his dream.

"The funny thing about it," Castillo said, "is my unit was the one back then that supplied ammo, food and supplies to my grandfather's unit. I'm in the unit that supported them in Vietnam. That's like a happy ending for me; it's another reason why I'm happy to work for these guys.

"I've been pulling 18 hours and it's worth it," he continued. "But the fact that I'm working in this unit makes me feel like I'm close to my grandfather in a way. I have a lot of respect for the Army, I mean, we're the ones fighting in the background, the Army and the Marines are the ones in front. My grandfather's First Cavalry Unit was my first patch."

4/16/2012 11:31:36 AM ET
Why reinvent the wheel Every squadron I've been assigned to has used Excel to track pilot training. Whether you need training data for a specific individual or the entire squadron it's readily available. The data can be converted to various formats including spreadsheet and is easily exportable to the next duty station.
Lee, Eglin
4/12/2012 12:06:25 PM ET
I must concur that this story was difficult to read. Just need to stick with the facts and stay in line with the story's title. If one reads the narrative next to each picture they do a better job of summing things up.
James, Scott
4/12/2012 10:15:20 AM ET
I still know nothing about this tracking program that the title led me to believe I'd learn more about.
SJ, Florida
4/11/2012 4:58:48 PM ET
@EOD....SW was obviously being sarcastic due to the over awarding of Bronze Stars recently and the publicity it has received. Check out the
Chief, East Coast
4/11/2012 1:27:40 PM ET
SSgt Castillo states I've been pulling 18 hours and it's worth it. As he isn't deployed under combat or contingency conditions this clearly indicates poor judgement and a flagrant disregard of common sense risk management by SSgt Castillo and his chain of command.
4/11/2012 9:38:06 AM ET
This is one of the most poorly written articles I've ever witnessed coming out of a public affairs office. I expected to read about a SSgt creating a new tracking program but instead the minimal info provided about it was obscured by unrelated ramblings about his assignment history ancestry squadron patch collection and dream of being assigned to a unit with pilots.
JT, Ohio
4/10/2012 5:54:21 PM ET
@SW are you kidding me right now a Bronze Star nomination. Do you actually have any idea what the requirements are for the Bronze Star I would say not.He may have distinguished himslef with meritorious achievment or service however it was not while engaged in an action against an enemy of the United States while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an oppposing foreign force or while serving with friendly foreign forces engaged in an armed conflict against an opposing armed force in which the United States is not a belligerent party.Nope It's because of people like you that the Air Force's award program is in total shambles. If you read the article he really hasn't done anything that outstanding. Submit to the IDEA program and leave it at that.
EOD, Out There
4/10/2012 2:44:59 PM ET
The author may wish to consider learning how to properly compose and edit an article as this one rambles on far too long.
Cindi, JBER
4/10/2012 10:13:43 AM ET
Outstanding article. I work with pilots at our base. What an outstanding young NCO. Great job SSgt Castillo. Would like to know more about yur iFly tracking program.
Marilyn Shelton, South Dakota
4/7/2012 12:07:37 PM ET
Inspiring story Sargento castilloIf you ever want to do an special duty where you can use your background and language skills we have a place for you The Inter-American Air Forces Academy in Lackland AFB Texas.
4/6/2012 5:04:00 PM ET
I would like to nominate him for the Bronze Star. This is some incredible work
SW, Not here
4/6/2012 4:00:24 PM ET
So what exactly is iFly
Tyler, JBER
4/6/2012 1:18:55 AM ET
This is an outstanding achievement for Sgt. Castillo. He has truly demonstrated how desire and belief in one's self can lead to great things. The Air Force has enabled him to do just that through their support and leadership. It makes for a great marrying of ideas and technically forward thinking.
Angela Hindmand, JBER AK
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