The weekend some of his fellow Pierson High School graduates were launching whaleboats and tossing harpoons at Sag Harbor’s HarborFest, Andrew Tilton was on the ramp at the East Hampton Airport during “Just Plane Fun Day,” manning an airplane display that belonged to his mentor, Dean Foster.
Fascinated by aviation, Andrew, 18, became the first student from Pierson to graduate the school having earned his private pilot’s license. He did so through a Board of Cooperative Educational Services (BOCES) program in Bellport that took two years to complete.
“We live right by the airport and I’ve seen the planes taking off my whole life. I just love it,” he said.
Andrew, who was this year’s recipient of the Lance Cpl. Jordan C. Haerter Award in honor of the local Marine killed in action in Iraq 10 years ago, departed two weeks ago for the United States Coast Guard. In an interview two days before he left for an eight-week training period in Cape May, New Jersey, he said he felt good about his decision to enlist.
“It’s definitely overwhelming but I’m excited about the adventure and the new experiences,” Andrew said.
He’s not sure yet what area of specialty he’ll pursue in the Coast Guard once he finishes his basic training. There are ocean patrolling units, of course, but there are also divisions for law enforcement, environmental, engineering, research — and aviation. So it may be a bit of a no-brainer — but “that’s what I like about the Coast Guard. You don’t have to go in knowing what you want to do. Once you graduate boot camp, you have four months to figure it out,” Andrew said.
He also became certified as a volunteer firefighter in the Bridgehampton Fire Department about a month ago, but didn’t have the chance to go on any calls before leaving for training.
“We’re very proud of what he’s accomplished, proud of what he’s done,” said Andrew’s father, J.R. Tilton. “We have to see where it takes him. We’re behind him. It’s a good road he’s taking.”