OFFUTT AIR FORCE BASE, Neb. --
Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned.
U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Aaron Wilkes, 55th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron dedicated crew chief, tried out for the 2016 Air Force Bowling Team and didn’t make it, but that isn’t where his story begins or ends.
Starting at age five, Wilkes began accompanying his father to league nights at the bowling alley every Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. A decade later, he bowled his first 300 game during a Saturday morning junior league.
“It started out as a family thing,” Wilkes said. “I didn’t really consider it a passion, or to pursue it at a higher level, until I bowled my first 300.”
But his passion could only take him so far and he knew he wanted to do something to better himself, so he decided to join the Air Force.
“I knew I wanted to travel,” he said. “I never flew on an airplane before flying to basic training.”
Wilkes took a leap of faith and came into the Air Force without knowing what his job would be, but says he is happy with the outcome.
“I love maintenance,” he said. “I get to take something that is broken and repair it to proper operation or replace it with something that is better.”
The Air Force also presented him the opportunity to take his talents to a new level.
“Since my first 300 game, I have accumulated 15 additional perfect games, 10 blown perfect games ranging from 296 through 299, and the 800 series honor 10 times,” Wilkes said. “I competed in three Professional Bowling Association events across the U.S., and made the U.S. Air Force team the last two years.”
Being a part of the Air Force team has proved a valuable resource in networking with other players.
“I first met Kyle while competing at Air Force trials at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, in 2012,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Ronald Hurt, Air Force Installation and Mission Support Center, Detachment 4 communications division chief, Ramstein Air Base, Germany. “He is a great competitor. I've seen him put up huge scores. He always gives it all he has, even when the pins aren't falling for him. He was key to the Air Force team winning the Armed Services all-events titles in 2014 and 2015.”
Last year, he competed in seven leagues and this year he is competing in four and filing in on his girlfriend’s league on occasion. He also owns more than 25 bowling balls.
His goals are set on winning tournaments and eventually capturing a PBA title. But, that isn’t where it stops.
After he meets those goals, he hopes to one day coach youth bowlers. In the meantime, he still finds time to give back in his own way. He recently donated some bowling balls to the Greater Omaha Bowling Association to give away to the junior bowlers.
Wilkes said he was lucky to have the mentorship of his father and he hopes to one day pass that on to future bowlers.
“I lost my dad on Labor Day in 2008,” he said. “But, I still think about him every time I go out there.”
Wilkes said each day is a challenge.
“It is not just about rolling a ball, it’s about oil viscosity, consistency of your shots, the actual physics of the pins and the bowling ball, ball speed, rotation of the ball, the axis the ball is rotating on the lane, the friction between the lane and the ball, how you release the ball, your leverage, timing, follow through….,” he said. “It is a big math problem when it all comes down to.”
But, he said being able to lose himself in a different environment other than work is something he really enjoys doing and he recommends it to anyone who is looking to start a new sport or hobby.
“Start slow, don’t try to be the pro right off the bat,” Wilkes said. “That was something that took me a really long time to figure out. I had to tell myself, ‘you aren’t going to strike every time you go out. But you do have to try to accomplish consistency and accuracy.’”
In keeping with consistency, Wilkes hopes to try out for the U.S. Air Force bowling league every year they invite him.