He was a freshman in college when 9-11 happened.

Justin Pitcock’s roots are in a place called Graham.

It was here, in North Texas hill country, that his family generations ago started and still runs Pitcock Oil and Gas. It was here that Justin would ride around in the back of his dad’s ¾-ton Chevy pickup with his dog, scanning the endless grasslands.

It was here that he played alongside the girl who’d come to be his wife.

Justin is in Kallie Karper Pitcock’s baby book, in fact. Their families have been friends for years—their grandfather and great-grandfather were business partners, actually—so when Kallie was born, Justin tagged alongside his mom to the hospital.

Tradition matters in Graham. Tradition matters to Justin.

Still, “I am someone who is always looking for the next, best opportunity,” Justin said. “I feel nostalgia. I like history. But I always want to try new things.”

That means turning points unfold not infrequently for Justin.

He went to Texas A&M University with thoughts of perhaps becoming an architect or a businessman. He was a freshman, having just finished attending an economics class one morning, when he started hearing a buzz around campus.

Something happened in New York. “People said the Japanese bombed New York. No one knew what was going on.” Then, something happened at the Pentagon. Every eye on campus was glued to televisions.

Justin has several family members who have served in the military. His grandfather was an intelligence officer in Southeast Asia during World War II. His uncle was a national security advisor for President Reagan. And Texas A&M fosters a love of country.

So when 9-11 happened, it sparked something in Justin.

“You feel the need to do something about it,” he said. “It’s like the Kennedy assassination for my parents. When something happens at that stage in your life like that, it kind of defines you and your generation.”

By the time Justin had finished at A&M, he was in the Marine Corps’ officer selection program. And he wanted to fly.

A lot of people who pursue careers in flight are what Justin calls “aviation nerds.” He was never one of those, he said, although he does remember using old fence boards to build “planes” as a kid.

“For me, flying is cool because you can look out the window and you get places faster,” he said. He has to be willing and able to learn how to fly any number of new and evolving aircraft, and that he likes.

He was trained to fly CH-46 helicopters (Battle “Phrogs,” they’re called). He has flown in Afghanistan, and he was among those who went to Pakistan in the fall of 2010 following catastrophic monsoons and flooding.

His Phrog delivered food and water to stranded Pakistanis; Justin was sometimes forced to hover over homes or land in areas where not much land was available. People crawled, climbed and clamored for help.

“You’re just amazed by the catastrophe in front of you,” he said.

When the Phrog retired and was replaced by something known as the “Osprey,” Justin was trained for that as well. And for someone who is eager both to try new things and honor tradition, the transition was exciting and poignant. The Phrog first saw combat in the jungles of Vietnam in 1965.

But the Osprey is a latest and greatest flight technology, and being invited to fly it was both an honor and a career-shaper. It changed things for Justin.

Today, he is part of the squadron based at Quantico that goes wherever President Obama goes.

“Anywhere the president goes, there’s a helicopter there,” Justin said.

He does advance groundwork, making sure the crew has what it needs before various trips. And sometimes that means he doesn’t have a lot of notice before work calls.

But it’s important work, and for that Justin’s grateful.

Justin’s plans for the future include business school, and eventually, a move back to Graham.

It’s home, after all.