Now he finds beauty through the lenses of his camera but for 26 years, Major Pete Pepin flew jet aircraft and taught pilots in the U.S. Air Force. He graduated from Rumford High School in 1978 and enlisted immediately after graduation.
His journey in the Air Force was not typical. Most service members enter a branch as either enlisted or officers and rarely do those career paths cross. Not so with Maj. Pepin.
He explained, “I spent three years enlisted before attending the Air Force Academy where I graduated in 1985.”
This transition was part of his motivation to join and one of his dreams.
In terms of motivation to enlist, Maj. Pepin said, “Growing up in Rumford, I always was interested in the military and becoming a pilot. I wanted to serve our country, travel the world and lead men in combat.”
He did accomplish all of that and more. Not a man to give up on his dreams, going to the Air Force Academy was a means to become a pilot.
Maj. Pepin explained, “What I learned in the service was to never give up on your dreams and that you can accomplish anything in life if you’re willing to work for it. I was not admitted into the Air Force Academy out of high school nor did I qualify for a ROTC scholarship, so I enlisted. I re-applied to USAFA (United States Air Force Academy) as an enlisted man and was selected to the AF Prep School instead, where I was one of four cadets nominated for Cadet Candidate of the Year. I was then able to attend the AF Academy and then UPT (Undergraduate Pilot Training) where I fulfilled my dream to become an AF Pilot.”
During his years as an enlisted airman, he worked as a Telecommunications Operations Specialist stationed at Eielson AFB, Fairbanks, AK. Maj. Pepin said, “I worked in the base communications center where I sent and received messages worldwide.”
Then it was back to the lower 48 for school at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, CO. He earned his bachelor’s degree in financial management and later earned a Master’s of Business Administration in Individual Financial Planning.
After college, his dream of becoming a pilot came true.
Maj. Pepin described, “After graduating from USAFA in 1985, I attended UPT at Reese Air Force Base in Lubbock, TX, learning to fly the T-37 Tweet and T-38 Talon jet trainers, where I received my pilot’s wings.”
The T-37 Tweet is a small twin-engine training jet. It’s an attack-type aircraft. While the T-38 Talon is a two-seat, twin-engine supersonic jet trainer.
Then it was off to the North Dakota. Maj. Pepin said, “My first flying assignment was flying the KC-135A Stratotanker based at Minot Air Force Base, where I flew worldwide aerial refueling missions for the Strategic Air Command.”
The KC-135A is a jet-powered aerial refueling tanker. It’s a flying jet-fuel gas station.
Maj. Pepin continued his story, “After upgrading to Aircraft Commander I was assigned to Plattsburgh Air Force Base (AFB) in Plattsburg, NY. While at Plattsburgh I was deployed briefly during Operation Desert Storm. I also upgraded to Instructor Pilot and then Evaluator Pilot performing flight instruction and evaluations while stationed at Plattsburgh. When Plattsburgh AFB closed, I returned to Reese AFB as a Flight Instructor in the T-1A Jayhawk.”
The T-1A is also a training aircraft. It’s a twin-engine jet aircraft used to train pilots who then fly airlift and tanker planes.
“While at Reese I was a Flight Commander in charge of seven instructor pilots and 13 undergraduate pilot students,” Maj. Pepin added. “When Reese AFB was selected for closure I returned to the KC-135R and was stationed at RAF Mildenhall in England.
While at RAF Mildenhall, I flew combat missions in support of the conflict in Kosovo. I performed Flight Instructor duties and was the 100th Air Refueling Group’s Chief Flight Evaluator.”
He concluded his active duty back in the states.
Maj. Pepin said, “My final assignment was to McGuire AFB in New Jersey where I was the Chief KC-135 Evaluator Pilot in the 21st Air Force Standards and Evaluations Unit responsible for evaluating all AF flying units east of the Mississippi. I retired in December of 2004.”
In terms of his motivation to enlist, he did travel the world and lead men in combat. Maj. Pepin described, “During my service I got to visit 49 states and over 30 countries. I flew more than 4000 hours and over 30 combat support missions in support of operations in Iraq and Kosovo.”
After retiring from the Air Force in 2004, he moved to the Washington DC area, attended Professional Photography School in Bethesda, MD, and became a professional photographer in 2005.
Maj. Pepin explained his new career. “I performed high-end wedding, Bar Mitzvah, portrait and special event photography for Washington Talent, Photography and Video Company where I got to travel to Toronto, Chicago and Orlando for special events. I also photographed numerous high-end corporate events in DC and had the opportunity to meet numerous celebrities.”
But the western mountains of Maine were calling him home.
“I moved back to Rumford in 2007,” Maj. Pepin said. “Since returning to Maine, I have worked part time as a photographer, seasonal work at L.L. Bean, an Ed Tech and Assistant XC Ski Coach at Oxford Hills High School. I currently reside in Bethel with my girlfriend
Gini Blais and work one-on-one as a teacher’s aide with a special needs student at Telstar High School, where I also help coach the XC Ski Team.”
Maj. Pepin is the son of Roger Pepin of Rumford and Leesburg, FL, and the late Janet Pepin. His siblings include Laurie Frost of Rumford and Leesburg, FL; Patty Pepin from Auburn and Patrick Pepin of Queensbury, NY. His daughter, Kristen Pepin is 27 and married and lives in Voorhees, NJ. She works as a case manager for the Philadelphia Federal Court.
This is the 30th in a series about graduates from Mountain Valley High School who are serving our country in the military.