SAN DIEGO, Calif. (WLUC) When you think of United States Marines, you might think "boots on the ground," but many Marines spend their careers in the air.
If you've seen the movie Top Gun, you've seen Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. The base was once used by both the Marine Corps and the Navy to train pilots in World War II. Today, roughly 15,000 people work at "Fightertown USA," but they're not all in the military.
"We have about 2,000 civilians that work here every day for the different departments," said Colonel Jason Woodworth, Commander Officer at Marine Corps Air Station Miramar. "But the vast majority, of course, are the active Marines... about 10,000 Marines or so."
Those Marines have a wide variety of MOS's, or Military Occupational Specialities.
"You have airframers that work on the actual physical shell of the airplane," Colonel Woodworth said. "You have the mechanics that work on the engines. All those folks work as a team to make sure the airplanes are ready and operational for the pilots and the crew to get out there and train for their combat mission from here."
But in civilian terms, what is Miramar to the Marine Corps?
"At the root of it, it's an airport. So whether it's San Diego International, Chicago O'Hare, Atlanta International, it's just an airfield," said Major Brandon Woods, a pilot who flies MV-22 Ospreys. "The only difference, it's owned and operated by the Department of Defense, and we have over 100 plus aircraft, across for different type-model series."
"You have combat support aircraft and you have combat aircraft," said Colonel Woodworth. "So you have the KC-130 that does all sorts of resupply and aerial refueling. They also deliver ordinance. You have the F-18's of course. They'll fly off aircraft carriers sometimes but also from land bases."
On the west coast of the U.S., Miramar is the main hub for Ospreys, a cross between a helicopter and an airplane.
"The Osprey is the first of its kind; it's a tilt-rotor aircraft," said Major Woods. "So what that means is, it has the capability of lifting vertically. And then once airborn, it can transition to forward flight."
Before these pilots jump in the cockpit, they go through years and years of school and rigorous training. In fact, it's about two years from the day Marines on track to be pilots finish college and boot camp to the day they finally get their wings.
"You do need to go to college to be an officer in the Marine Corps and be a pilot. But really, if you've got a dream, stick with it. All too often we don't, because it's hard," said Colonel Woodsworth. "Personal advice... it's a ton of fun. It's that's your dream, your aspiration, your goal, to be a pilot, to let it die."
There are a few ways pilots say you can jump start your career in the air by taking flying lessons before you finish high school, or while you're in college. If you'd like to learn more, you're asked to contact your local recruiter.