A couple of Porterville Military Academy cadets, one who returned from Summer Encampment 2022 in San Luis Obispo, and the other from an eight-week Air Force Flight Academy summer aviation training program, are shining brighter, shooting sharper and soaring higher than ever on campus. PMA Cadets Tobias Clower and Brady Unruh returned from their respective summer programs as changed men — one as a Marksman Field Expert and the other as a licensed pilot.
But it was no easy feat getting there. The environment was physical and challenging for the 14 and, then 16, year old cadets.
“I went in with the motivation that I can do it,” said Clower, adding he has been inspired greatly by his father, U.S. Army Sgt. E-5, Brad Clower.
He attended the program, Clower said, because he wanted to learn how to use manual arms and fire weapons responsibly.
And that he did. His marksmanship program included handling and firing guns — including black-powder pistol, black-powder rifle, air canister rifles and 22’s sharp shooting. He also shot archery with a compound bow and metal arrows — and walked away, at age 14, as an “Expert.”
“I liked it a lot,” Clower said. “It’s the best one I did. It was a good-weighted bow and has a lot of force.”
Run by Sergeant First Class Federici, the range safety officers taught them how to properly fire weapons, including “when to fire, and when to not fire.”
The archery targets included areas with realistic targets — including silhouettes of bears, fish and deer sporadically placed.
As a marksmanship graduate, Clower earned an orange hat.
His dedication and discipline has a lot to do, he said, with the admiration for, and from, his father.
“He’s one of the best cadets in this,” said PMA Commandant Fred Dohnke.
But that's not the only place he shines.
“He is an amazing kid whose relationship with his father is what every son in the world wants their father to be like,” Dohnke said. “He came to me and asked me ‘How can my dad get involved in this school?’” Dohnke said. “That’s what doing right looks like in my book.”
Clower, who attended PMA in seventh and eighth grade, is now in his third year at the school and enrolled as a freshman.
His father served with one of his instructors, Porterville Unified School District Aviation Pathway Lead and instructor Minervo Ramirez.
“My dad was really proud of me,” Clower said, adding he was gifted with a BB gun for achieving his goals and completing the course. “I came home more confident. I never thought once about not going to camp. Next time I’m going for ‘Survival.’”
Unruh was 16 years of age while he attended his eight-week program to earn his private pilot certificate. He had hoped to get his flying license before his drivers’ license. But his birthday fell on a Sunday and his flight license test was scheduled for the following Monday.
Still, he did something other students only dream of doing.
“It's truly a remarkable experience to get a pilot license before graduating from high school,” said PMA Principal Doug Ihmels.
Dohnke paraphrased the uniqueness of it, saying Unruh will be flying when other students are not even driving a vehicle yet.
A 4.0 student, the summer for him — every day for the first three weeks of the program — consisted of three hours of ground-school followed by airport skills where he applied everything he learned to flying.
“I’d fly two hours every day,” he said, adding flying was limited due to numerous “huge storms.”
After the first three weeks, Unruh took an FAA written exam.
“Getting the freedom to take an airplane up solo, and fly wherever I wanted — that is a huge responsibility,” Unruh said of the 46 actual flight hours on a Cessna 172 model.
“That’s pretty aggressive. Most people don’t understand what it means to be immersed in flying in eight weeks,” Dohnke said.
Unruh completed in 46 flying hours what others do in an average of 50 to 60 hours.
“There were no breaks. It was intense every single day,” Unruh said. “If we were not at the airport flying, we were in the room studying”
He was checked off to fly solo on the second week, he said. But due to bad weather, didn't go up until the third week.
His last flying event was held on July 28.
The next day was graduation, which was held at the University of Nebraska, Kearney and his family flew out for three days.
“We are so proud of him,” said his mom, Bethany Unruh. “We actually got to watch his test flight. I was a nervous wreck. They made Brady wait to be tested last. His instructors said, ‘We knew he was a for-sure pass, so we had him go at the end.’”
Dohnke said he's proud too.
“Super proud. That’s a lot of responsibility on his shoulders,” Dohnke said. “He’s representing Porterville Military Academy and we are excited at every turn. We could not be prouder. He’s the first PMA aviator.”
Dohnke added it was a great pleasure going up in a plane with him a couple of weekends ago and letting Unruh do everything.
“I didn’t have to touch the controls,” Dohnke said. “It’s great to have another pilot at the school.”
Unruh said he plans to attend California Aeronautical University in Bakersfield, and in the future would like an aviation career and fly for a commercial airline.