By Airman 1st Class Harry Brexel
19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
Ever since he was a young boy Maj. Brent Reiss knew he wanted to be a pilot.
“I remember going to the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, and watching planes on the runway with my father,” Reiss said. “Though my dad was a doctor, I knew I had a passion for planes.”
Reiss’ dream came true in 2000 when he commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps and was selected for pilot training.
Eventually Reiss was stationed at Little Rock Air Force Base with the 50th Airlift Squadron. Reiss is now a 61st AS C-130J aircraft commander and the current 19th Airlift Wing Inspector General director of complaints resolution.
After being active-duty for seven years and reaching the rank of captain, Reiss married his wife, who was in the Arkansas Air National Guard. For Reiss and his new family, everything was going well.
“While assigned to the 50th AS, I went on four deployments to various operations in the Middle East.”
In April 2006, however, his career and life took an unexpected turn.
“I loved my career and flying, and I had no idea that it would all be taken from me,” added Reiss. “Almost out of the blue, I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called ulcerative colitis. I was told that the disease was not controllable through medical therapy.”
Ulcerative colitis is a disease that causes long-lasting inflammation and sores in the digestive tract.
Along with facing a health crisis, Reiss’ career was put in jeopardy.
“I was told that I could no longer fly and then put on the temporary disability retirement list,” said Reiss.
In February of 2007, Reiss was given his 30-day notice.
“It was a huge blow,” said Reiss. “I wasn’t done serving. I raised my right hand for a reason, and I didn’t feel that I had fully served my nation.”
Though being forced to leave the Air Force was a huge challenge for Reiss, it was just the beginning of many trials to come.
For the next five years, Reiss battled with his condition while simultaneously trying to support his family.
“First, I worked for an airline company, but was unable to continue the job due to my health,” said Reiss. “So then I worked two jobs, one as a bartender and the other at a jewelry store.”
During that time, Reiss also had several surgeries in order to cope with his medical condition.
“After my last surgery in April 2009, my health improved, and I was able to return to the job I had with the airline company,” Reiss added.
Although Reiss’ health was improving, finding a stable job which he enjoyed and that provided for his family was difficult.
“I left my job with the airline company and then became a contract flight simulator instructor at Columbus Air Force Base, in Mississippi,” said Reiss.
However, the job as an instructor was eventually cut, due in part to military budget changes. Reiss then headed to work at the Arkansas Department of Veterans Affairs, performing background checks. It was his fifth job after his departure from active duty.
During the time Reiss was working, he also faced yearly Air Force informal physical evaluation boards.
Each year he was evaluated, Reiss was told he was not fit to return to active duty. But in 2010, Reiss knew he was ready and healthy enough to put the uniform back on.
“After due diligence and determination, I appealed the board’s decision for the first time,” said Reiss.
In August of 2010, he got the call letting him know that he was fit to fight.
“I’ll never forget that day,” said Reiss. “I answered my phone and remember hearing, ‘Brent, I hope your blues still fit.’”
After almost two years of waiting, Reiss put his uniform back on and headed back to The Rock. He first worked a short stint with the 34th Combat Training Squadron and was then assigned to the 61st AS.
“The first hurdle was being cleared to get back into the Air Force,” said Reiss. “But being cleared to fly was another challenge in and of itself. It took time and determination.”
In September of 2013, Reiss was finally able get back into the cockpit of a C-130J.
“It was a great feeling of nostalgia,” said Reiss. “It was like riding a bike.”
Reiss is now flying regularly.
“I’m humbled,” said Reiss. “Less than one percent of people return to active duty from the Air Force’s temporary disability retirement list.”
Not only is Reiss proud to be an Airman again, he is honored to be a part of the mission at Little Rock AFB as well.
“Combat Airlift has been the backbone to U.S. missions for years,” said Reiss. “I have a desire to continue contributing to the mission and legacy here.”
Along with supporting the base’s mission, Reiss is also the proud father of two daughters.
“I am so thankful for my family,” he said. I wouldn’t be where I am today without my wife and daughters.”
As he looks back, Reiss realized how much he learned through his experience.
“I learned that the answer is always ‘no…’ unless you ask,” said Reiss. “Along with the support from my family, I am back in the Air Force because of asking questions, staying informed and using my resources.”
He even offers advice to others who may find themselves in a similar situation.
“If you work hard, something will come out of it,” Reiss said. “You must use your network of friends, supervisors or coworkers for assistance.”
Reiss is slated to deploy early next year. He says he is more determined and prepared than ever.
“I didn’t work this hard to let it go away,” Reiss said.