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The Ultimate Comeback: 116th ACS Airman accepted into Air Force Academy

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Yuki Klein
  • 142nd Wing/Public Affairs

PORTLAND, OR  -- From uncertainty, to a life-altering car accident, to acceptance into the Air Force Academy, Senior Airman Noah Mariotti, a command and control battle management operations specialist assigned to the 116th Air Control Squadron, has experienced a whirlwind over the past two years.

Mariotti joined the Oregon Air National Guard in February of 2021 with the intention of becoming an officer later on in his career. However, this dream slowly faded away as he began to drift through various interests. Ultimately, he was unable to pinpoint a clear path for his life.

Then, two years later, Mariotti found himself in a tragic car accident in December of 2022 which left him hospitalized for three weeks, changing the course of his life.

While returning home from a Christmas party with a friend, Mariotti’s car was involved in a collision.

“We got into the initial accident and we got out of the car, which was a bad idea…everyone was in the far right lane and the left lane was open,” explained Mariotti. “There was another car that wasn't stopping at everyone's signals. So they ended up barreling down and…then we just ended up flying. My buddy and bystander both flew over the railing to the other side of oncoming traffic and I flew forwards. However, we ended up surviving.”

When Mariotti was hit by the reckless driver, the right side of his body was badly injured while his friend was left with a broken femur among other injuries.

Mariotti’s time in the hospital was spent on bed rest, leaving him with just his thoughts. This provided the opportunity to reflect and find his passion for life again. The unwavering support he received from his family and military community during this period brought the realization of the value of their encouragement and the importance of making his friends and family proud.

“I was uncertain before the accident due to me not remembering my main goal in my life,” said Mariotti. “I simply was letting myself get pushed around and not really doing anything with my life.”

While recovering, Mariotti’s mother informed the 142nd Wing Commander at the time, Colonel Todd Hofford, about his long-standing, albeit wavering, ambition to join the Air Force Academy.

This discussion set in motion a chain of support from his commanders, including Col. Hofford, Brig. Gen. (retired) Donna Prigmore, former Oregon Air National Guard Commander, and Colonel Lantagne, former 142nd Wing Vice Commander and current Director of Staff for the Oregon Air National Guard.

By March 2023, Mariotti had made a remarkable six month recovery, defying the initial projection of a year-long healing process. With a new purpose, he began preparing rigorously for the Academy.

He hired tutors for English, Math, and Science, and dedicated himself to improving his test scores. Mariotti even traveled to Idaho and Medford, Oregon to take multiple SAT and ACT exams, eventually achieving a respectable score of 1350.

Despite a brief scare in March 2024, when he received a rejection letter due to a medical waiver mix-up, Mariotti’s determination never wavered.

“That first five seconds I was incredibly scared. I was like, ‘what the heck,’ but then I took over like, no, that can't be. So I called them up and said ‘hey, why did I get a rejection letter’ and they ended up finding out it was a mistake.”

In late March after clearing up the mistake, he received the long-awaited acceptance call from 116th Air Control Squadron Commander, Lt. Col. Casey Robbins.

“So he tells me, ‘hey, congratulations! I just heard,’” said Mariotti. “I’m like ‘what are you talking about, Sir?’ and he’s like, ‘you got accepted into the academy.’ I was amazed and I told him ‘thank you, Sir. I’m probably going to go scream now,’ and so I ended up screaming and just felt really happy to know that all that hard work paid off.”

In addition to his personal preparations to get accepted into the Air Force Academy, he also had support and a letter of recommendation from Brig. Gen. Prigmore.

“What I absolutely positively love about Noah is he has the best attitude of anyone I’ve met in a really, really long time,” said Prigmore. “[this] gives me the utmost confidence that he is really going to do well.”

Looking forward, Mariotti plans to study aeronautical engineering at the academy with the goal of becoming a pilot. His dream is to serve as an officer, a goal he has held since high school.

Mariotti’s journey from uncertainty to a clear vision of becoming a pilot has been marked by resilience, determination, and the unwavering support of those around him.

As he prepares to enter the Air Force Academy in June 2024, Mariotti reflects on his experiences, knowing that the journey has only just begun. He looks forward to a future in aeronautical engineering and, ultimately, achieving his goal of becoming a fighter pilot.