By Dolly Rairigh Glass
Captain Jiancarlo Villa spent the first part of his childhood in Mexico, and from a very early age, developed a love for airplanes. He had cousins and uncles on his mother’s side who were pilots, and at some point even his dad had been a Learjet salesman. Villa set his sights on one day getting to fly.
But one of the paths for realizing his dream of flying, the military, wasn’t really a choice living in Mexico. “Military opportunities were reserved for the entitled in Mexico, which was very much a caste-like system. The enlisted were not respected and were treated as second-class citizens,” Villa said.
Then, at the age of 13, during another cycle of political unrest in Mexico in the 1980s, Villa’s mother and father fled Mexico with him and his two siblings, and returned to California in search of a safe and stable home for their three children.
His Los Angeles neighborhood and high school was a tough environment, made up of predominantly Mexican and Filipino students. It was hard to find a “group” where he fit in, but both his mother and father had been educators in Mexico, and although their move to the U.S. had derailed them both of continuing to teach right away, they expected their son to do well in school.
He did — somehow defying the odds set before him, taking and succeeding in advanced placement classes and doing well enough that when he applied, he met the criteria for acceptance to the Naval Academy. Unfortunately his dream would have to wait, because although he met the Naval Academy acceptance criteria, he was not able to get the needed congressional appointment.
An Air Force recruiter, during a high school career day event, initially introduced him to the idea of military service. But it was a Navy recruiter who caught the attention of his father, and with his encouragement, Villa listened to the opportunities before him. He decided that the Navy was a solid choice to get his education and training, while providing the opportunity for flight school.
His initiative, intelligence and drive started paying off right away as a nuclear power recruit and people noticed him. It didn’t take long before he was selected for the Broaden Opportunity for Officer Selection and Training (BOOST) program. “It was like a prep academy before college; it focused on the math and sciences to help you succeed in your early years of college,” Villa said.
He attended and graduated from Jacksonville University, was commissioned immediately after graduation during the same ceremony, with just enough time to change out of his graduation robe and put on his Navy choker white jacket and cover for the commissioning ceremony.
However, budgetary cuts and other Naval manpower end strength adjustments forced him to have to wait another 17 months to begin flight training. He finally commenced flight training during the summer of 1994 and was designated a Naval Flight Officer in August 1995.
Today, as the chief of staff at the Naval Air Warfare Center Training Systems Division, Villa, call sign “Pancho”, is an operations guru dropped in the middle of acquisition professionals. He’s utilizing his years of experience in a multitude of positions to help him be a great NAWCTSD team member and provide a process and procedure framework for the operational side of things. “I’m thankful to be here,” he said. “It’s such a rare and challenging experience — it’s both personally and professionally rewarding.”
Although Villa has an impressive resume from which he’s honed his skills, his most recent position prior to joining NAWCTSD, from June 2011 through July 14, was his assignment as branch chief for Afghanistan and Pakistan plans in the U.S. Central Command’s Strategy, Plans and Policy directorate, and assigned as deputy director of the Afghanistan transition operational planning team.
As the branch chief, he directed and coordinated the efforts of more than 75 planners in the development of a holistic plan for the transition of wartime operations in Afghanistan.
“The scope and magnitude of a U.S. war plan is mind blowing,” Villa said. “To have the opportunity to write a national war plan is one thing, but to have it actually get approved and executed was something pretty amazing for our team.”
Villa said that his variety of work experiences have definitely helped prepare him for his current role, but that he believes his early experiences as a teen and young man is what shaped him. “It’s a harsh transition from one country to another; the challenges, the differences. We took a hit both financially and socially,” he explained. “That move really prepared me to succeed in my early stages of the Navy. The military is a pick up team made up of people from all walks of life — and for many in the enlisted world, it’s a way out.”
“I’m humbled to be perceived as one of those success stories and I want to be able to share that with folks. I know where I came from, and I want to remember what I felt like at every stage of my career so I can better relate to people,” Villa said.
When Villa received his assignment to NAWCTSD, he hadn’t heard of Team Orlando, primarily because he was an operator, although he was slightly familiar with NAWCTSD because he was doing a lot of training. He said he was extremely happy when he found out this was his next assignment.
“I think the Team Orlando concept is the core of a bigger, greater one, which is Central Florida,” he said. “Team Orlando is the nucleus and energy behind Central Florida, and I’m excited to see what Orlando will continue to become with the vision that is there.”
“Thank you to everyone for the way you have welcomed people into this environment. It’s truly impressive.”