• Alumni Stories
Giving Them Wings
Jill Rennicke, Alumni Coordinator

Careening through the skies at hundreds of miles an hour in a fighter jet, banking curves that can cause the human body to pull 5G's of force in the turns sounds exciting. But for Air Force pilots who must do this day in and day out, the toll on the human body can be debilitating. Even 40 minutes of BFM (Basic Flight Maneuvers), as the pilots call their training runs, can compress the human spine up to 5 millimeters. Long term neck and back injuries are a common cause of grounded pilots, lowering national readiness and raising costs for medical care.

Michelle Jilek (2008 alum) knew she could help. "Ninety-six percent of the pilots at Langley were flying in pain without treatment," said Jilek, a Doctor of Physical Therapy. To help change that, Jilek has pioneered a program at Joint Base Langley Eustis to embed a physical therapist with the fighter pilot unit, which is helping to get pilots back in the cockpit faster and helping to prevent long term injury. "I'm really close to the flight line. I can see them minutes after they get out of their plane," Jilek said.

It is difficult but rewarding work. "I couldn't be more proud to work with the amazing men and women of the 27th FS, 94th FS, 71st FTS, and the 149th FS," she says. "They challenge me to give my best every day. I founded this clinic from ground-up despite all the obstacles, and I believe that attached/embedded care is possible at every base!"

In addition to the praises of the pilots she works with, Michelle has received media coverage of her work, such as the January/February issue of AirForce Magazine. Click here for a link to the story, and click here for a recent news video featuring her program. Click on this link for a look at the ground-breaking work of our alum who is keeping fighter pilots in the air longer and more safely. 

Dr. Jilek

Photos above contributed by Michelle Jilek. 

Thumbnail photo contributed by SrA Tristan Biese of the AirForce Magazine.