When their children, Shaashawn and Nathan, were growing up, Cortez and Joyce Dial told them they could be anything in the world they wanted to be. “We’d support them and provide the necessary resources to try those things,” says Joyce Dial. “We told them never to limit themselves or their options, and we stressed honesty, volunterism, commitment, and doing their best every day.”
Both children took the advice to heart: Shaashawn eventually produced and hosted her own daily radio show, while Nathan entered the United States Air Force Academy and has since become the fourth African-American in the academy’s history to serve as Cadet Wing Commander.
Nathan Dial grew up as a military brat: his grandfather and father were both in the Army, while his uncle served as an Air Force medic. By the time he was four, he’d bounced from Buffalo, N.Y., his birthplace, to Seoul, South Korea, and then to Chester. His time in Virginia would end in 1997 when the family moved to Carlisle, Pa. Six years later, upon his father’s retirement, Nathan found himself back in Colonial Heights and attending Thomas Dale High School (coincidentally, his sister’s alma mater), where he would graduate in 2006.
Throughout his childhood and adolescence, Dial proved himself to be adept in almost any field he dabbled in: he was cast in off-Broadway productions; he played piano and saxophone; he earned varsity letters in golf, soccer, and basketball. Academically, he maintained an unweighted GPA of 3.95, graduating tenth in his class, served as class president or vice president on numerous occasions; participated in a number of school clubs and teams; and devoted much of his free time to local service organizations.
Dial’s love of planes began early. “Back when he was three or four, he could listen to planes flying overhead and identify the engines and tell you what type of airplane it was,” recalls Joyce Dial. “If he saw a glimpse of it in the sky, he could tell you what it was. We spent a lot of money on aluminum foil because he liked to make models of the planes he saw. Fortunately, he never asked for an airplane – he wanted a car at the age of five, a Miata – but not an airplane.”
Still, it would take a few years for that love to solidify into a career plan. Like many kids his age, Dial saw his ambitions constantly changing: an architect, an engineer, a golfer, an actor. However, when he began working on science fair projects in Carlisle, he began thinking seriously about the Air Force. “All of his projects had to do with airplanes and aerodynamics,” says Joyce Dial.
The wheels were turning, but Dial didn’t limit his options when he began applying for colleges: eventually, he amassed over 30 acceptance letters, from Princeton to the Emory-Riddle School of Aerodynamics. “He decided that the Air Force was what he really wanted to do,” Dial says.
Receiving an appointment to the Air Force Academy is a bit trickier than applying for a standard college. An aspiring cadet can receive a Congressional or Senatorial endorsement or a Presidential nomination, or have a parent who served in the military. Dial received all of these, having gotten the endorsement of Congressman J. Randy Forbes and then-Senator George Allen. Following a series of interviews at Fort Lee, Dial and other future cadets visited the academy to attend classes and talk with cadets there. His interviews were successful, as was his fit with the academy, and Dial left home on June 29, 2006.
His high school years were already successful, but Dial, now a first-class cadet (senior), never slowed down once. He chose to major in economics and minor in Spanish, and upon graduation in May 2010, hopes to go to graduate school and then undergraduate pilot training in order to fly fighter jets for the Air Force.
Among the military training C1C Dial has received is an Ops Air Force tour at Dyess Air Force Base, Texas; his training in soaring flight – flight in a plane that, rather than relying on an engine, makes use of air currents – led him to become a Soaring Instructor Pilot. He served as an Exchange Cadet at the Naval Academy; has served as a Squadron Training NCO; and was the Director of Operations for first BCT 2009. During a summer language immersion program, he studied and tutored elementary students at the University of Peru.
Most impressive is C1C Dial’s position as fall 2009 Wing Commander – a first class cadet who is the academy’s senior ranking cadet. In this position, he is responsible for supporting the 4,400 cadets of the academy. The 103rd cadet to achieve the position since the founding of the academy, C1C Dial is also the first African-American to be named fall Cadet Wing Commander since 1985. (He follows a fellow African-American cadet, Kevin Van Hook, who served as summer Cadet Wing Commander and is a close friend.)
Joyce Dial credits much of the administration and Thomas Dale for helping her son along his path to success. “We call it the ‘village of supporters,’” she says. “As parents, we are especially grateful to Mrs. Evelyn White, the guidance coordinator at Dale; she guided, advised, and encouraged both Shaashawn and Nathan and still weighs in when asked.” They also are indebted to former military men and current Dale administrators principal Robert Stansberry (Air Force) and assistant principal Gene Brown (Army), and the other members of the “Fantastic Five” – Mrs. Michelle Lewis, Coach Fowler, and Mrs. Pam Lumsden.
Having already seen her son rack up so many accomplishments over the years, Dial believes that his future is just as bright. “If he can think about it and meet the criteria to do it, he’ll do it. He’s an adventurous soul,” she says. “I think for him, as with many young people, the sky is actually the limit. We adults have to set standards of expectation for our children and support them with resources and love them through failures and successes. They need to know that we believe in them.”
C1C Dial, for his part, also believes he’s made the right choice. Joyce Dial says, “When he came home for Christmas break in 2006, he said to us, ‘I’m glad I made the choice to go to the Air Force Academy, because it’s the environment and discipline I needed to get me where I want to be in life.’ There, I’m among the best of the best.’”
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