Award Recipient Taj Troy, '98
in September 2009
The 2009 Outstanding Black Alumni Award will be presented to Taj Troy, ’98, during the Homecoming Awards Gala on Friday, October 23. Troy is a Major in the South Carolina Air National Guard and has previously been honored by the College of Hospitality, Retail, and Sport Management with an award for Technology Support and Training Management. He is an F-16 pilot who flew 14 combat missions during Operation Iraqi Freedom, and was also the orientation pilot for Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier. Not only is he a licensed funeral director and assistant manager for Troy’s Funeral Homes, Inc. in Mullins, SC, but he’s also been very active in the community.
Troy says he was honored and surprised upon learning he would be the recipient of one of the University’s most prestigious awards.
“To say that I’m honored would be an understatement,” Troy says. “I’m really humbled because I cannot think on any one thing or collective events to receive this great award. However, I will accept this award on behalf of every man and woman who I have defended and those who currently defend our great nation and allies. They’re serving in the villages of Afghanistan, the streets of Baghdad and many, many other places around the world that you don’t hear or read about. Please know that we are committed to the right of freedom for all and we will not fail.”
Opportunity at Carolina
Troy grew up in Mullins, SC, which is located just east of Florence. He chose to come to Carolina for his education mainly because of his interest in the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corp (ROTC).
“Other factors that influenced my decision were Carolina’s proximity to home, the low in-state tuition, and its growing reputation as a leading university,” Troy says. “Ultimately, God directed my path to Carolina, and I’m thankful for that.”
While he started out as a biology major, Troy graduated from the College of HRSM after discovering a field of study that was more applicable to what he would need for life in the military.
“I quickly learned that my interest in plants and animals as a biology major didn’t have the same interest for me,” Troy recalls. “I decided to change my major to Administrative Information Management (AIME). The school has upgraded the major to keep up with technology and is now known as Technology Support & Training Management (TSTM). It was a very dynamic major, much like flying. The school taught practical hands-on course work. I’m a visual learner so it was a smooth transition.”
Troy praises the eagerness and energy of the instructors he had at Carolina, noting how many were always willing to go that extra mile to help him understand a process or concept. That dedication from his professors extended after graduation, as he received valuable mentoring.
“I had so many great professors like Dr. Cleveland Sellers, Dr. Patricia Moody, Mrs. Garcia Tate, Mrs. Ann Swafford and Major James Donnelly,” Troy says “They all challenged me in so many different ways. Ultimately they left me with the vision to constantly reinvent myself and never allow myself to become complacent or stagnate; to always remember that it’s okay to think out of the box. However, Mrs. Tina Weaver holds a special place in my heart. When I changed my major she advised me of the great careers the college had to offer. I simply explained to her my transition to the major was due to my appreciation for computer technology and application. I continued to tell her my goal in life was not to pursue a career in the field but to be a Fighter Pilot. She stared at me silently for a few moments with the RCA dog look and sincerely said, ‘Taj, if that’s what you want to do then by God I’ll do everything I possibly can to help you get there.’ She held true to that word. Little did I know at the time that my major would pay huge dividends when it came to planning and organizing combat missions!”
Of the many memorable moments of his days on campus, one of Troy’s favorite experiences involved a special event on the Horseshoe with some famous Carolina alumni.
“I remember being evicted from my dorm (Thornwell) for the weekend because Hootie and the Blowfish did ‘MTV Unplugged’ on the Horseshoe,” Troy says. “Great band by the way! However, it wouldn’t have been so bad if I would have had a ticket. It was memorable none the less. Who can forget fall Saturdays with gold and red leaves littering the campus and the sound of '2001' echoing through the campus.”
A Call to Serve
Troy was very active in the Air Force ROTC and was a Resident Advisor for two years. He joined the South Carolina Air National Guard during his junior year.
“Freedom isn’t free nor will it ever be,” Troy explains. “Like most soldiers I joined because it is a calling. I still get chills every time I hear the singing of our National Anthem. I, along with every member of the Armed Forces accepted an oath to ‘defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservations or purpose of evasion.’ The oath hasn’t changed much since 1775.”
Troy is proud to serve and place himself in harm’s way to defend, among other things, an individual’s right to free speech. Six months after being certified as a combat pilot, Troy’s unit was ordered to participate in the liberation of Iraq. He is proud of the difficult training he and his colleagues endure to protect this country and its interests.
“It’s not every day that your government asks you to free a country,” Troy says. “The South Carolina Air National Guard, McEntire Joint National Guard Base, is located just 10 miles south of Columbia. We proudly claim the title as ‘First in the Guard’ which translates into being the best F-16 unit in the world. That’s combat tested and proven in three major conflicts in the past 15 years. We train hard so that we can eliminate mistakes under stressful combat conditions. The strange thing about serving in hostile situations is that you don’t think about yourself as much as you think about your duty. People are counting on you to perform your job flawlessly. We take our jobs deadly serious because fathers, mothers, daughters and sons are counting on each of us to help bring their loved one home safe. ‘Mission successful’ is what you want to hear after every sortie. You cannot worry yourself with various opinions you see on the news. Before every mission I prayed for my flight (team) and even my enemy. Some people find praying for your adversary strange, but as a Christian I found it very fitting. I am proud to have been a part of the liberation from day one of the conflict.”
Flying in combat is one thing, but Troy was also thrilled to take South Carolina football coach Steve Spurrier on a special flight last year.
“Flying Coach Spurrier was an opportunity of a lifetime,” Troy says. “In the rear of the F-16 Coach Spurrier was alone, unarmed, but more importantly, unafraid. Most people would shudder to think of strapping into 30,000 pounds of metal, fuel and explosives capable of 1,400 mph. He accepted it as a challenge ,and he did great! A real ‘Top Gun.’ Coach Spurrier is the epitome of a gladiator that is ready to go toe-to-toe with any champion and not back down. To be amongst the clouds with one of the greatest to ever coach the game of football was truly a remarkable experience. And no, I didn’t try to scare him. It was just a day two Gamecocks spurred the sound of freedom over the skies of South Carolina.”
He Doesn’t Always Have His Head in the Clouds!
Although his true passion is being a pilot and Air Force officer, Troy also works as a licensed funeral director with his family’s funeral business in Mullins, SC. Growing up, he never found it strange to fall asleep in a room full of caskets.
“I admire my dad and mom so much for building a reputable business from scratch with over 35 years of successful service,” Troy says. “They taught me to never give up on your dreams even when others can’t see your path. They raised me to believe that all things are possible with commitment to a goal, but more importantly commitment and faith in God.”
In addition to serving his country, Troy serves his fellow man. He has been active in many community efforts and enjoys working with children.
“I joined the Boys and Girls Club and the Tuskegee Airmen,” Troy says. “They both allow a great opportunity to share valuable experience and mentorship to the youth. As a Certified Flight Instructor (CFI) I offer free incentive flights to kids who otherwise would not have the opportunity to experience flying.”
Troy hopes to someday own and operate a flight school for under privileged youth, aiming to expose them to opportunity through aviation.
“The goal is not necessarily to recruit pilots, but to allow aviation to be an avenue to share values and disciplines that come with the profession.” Troy explains. “That same school would also serve a Christian Summer Fight School. Much like vacation Bible School, I want to offer youth the opportunity to experience aviation while fellowshipping with other Christians from around the country. This is my goal, this is my dream.”
The first phase in accomplishing this was the creation of Torchbearers 3000, which he created from a diverse group of young professionals with a sincere passion and desire to share their relatable experience to youth age 12-18. Troy says that these role models for the 21st century motivate youth through non-traditional media to help them create a goal, plan a course and achieve the goal. This project is in the early stages, and you can find more information at www.torch3000.com.
Troy lives in Columbia, although he is temporarily deployed in Florida. He is able to get back to campus several times per year
“It’s always great to go back and walk the Horseshoe,” Troy says. “It’s amazing because you always see something new on the campus. I also participate when I’m in town with different events that HRSM may host. It’s a great opportunity to see many of my professors, fellow Alumni and meet future Alumni.”