Indian immigrant living the American dream, shooting for the stars in Air Force Reserve

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Chance Babin
  • Air Force Recruiting Service Public Affairs

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla. – Airman 1st Class Sorav Basu Roy, an air transportation specialist assigned to the 482nd Fighter Wing here and a commercial airline pilot with United Express, is living the American dream.

Born and raised in the small, mountainous and underdeveloped city of Agartala, India, Basu Roy had big dreams as a little boy, and, thankfully, parents who encouraged him to shoot for the stars.

“My childhood dream was to be an astronaut someday,” he said. “But, in my society there was so much prejudice that not many people supported me, except my parents.”

He recalled writing an essay on his life goals when he was just 6 years old and receiving an unusual reaction from his teacher about his future aspirations.

“I wrote an essay saying I would like to be an astronaut and how I would start by being a pilot,” he said. “But my teacher got mad at me. She thought I was being a daydreamer even though I was a good student at the time. She spanked my hands with a bamboo stick until my palms got red. She even made fun of me with a few other teachers. But I believe those kinds of experiences made me a strong and successful person today.”

Unlike his teacher, Basu Roy’s parents supported his dreams.

“I remember my parents said, ‘if you dream big over here, people will think you are crazy. We will work very hard and save money so we can send you to the only land of opportunity, which is the United States of America. Nobody will judge you there. You will have enormous opportunities and freedom.’”

Basu Roy continued to do well in school and he never lost his passion for aviation and space.

“I remember myself playing with paper airplanes and pretending to be a pilot as a child. Many of my friends did the same,” he said. “Our paper aircrafts competed, formed flying squadrons, and participated in important air missions. Years passed by, and while my friends moved on with their dreams and changed the love for the games in the air for other interests, I realized that my passion for aviation and space is a lifetime crush.”

When he was 18, his parents decided it was time to send Basu Roy to the United States.

“We had many family members and friends living in the U.S.,” he said. “For my parents, it was the best place they could send their only child. I think that decision forever changed my life.”

Within 19 days of arriving in the U.S., Basu Roy began flight training. Having spent endless hours on a computer-based flight simulator growing up in India, he was well prepared for the actual training.

“My instructor was so happy that I already knew so much about the aircraft,” he said. “On top of that, I was able to do all the maneuvers by myself without his intervention. In my first entry in my pilot logbook, he wrote ‘Excellent Job.’”

Basu Roy did his first solo flight when he was 19 and he passed his first exam for his private pilot’s license with flying colors. He received his instrument rating and his commercial pilot’s license in just six months.

With his pilot certificates in hand, he enrolled at Miami Dade College to work on his associate’s degree and began working toward his certified flight instructor rating.

He earned an associate of science degree in pilot technology and a Bachelor of Science degree in information technology as a distinguished graduate while simultaneously pursuing his aviation career.

“Four years ago, when I started flying as a flight instructor, I trained many new pilots who passed with flying colors and now work for airlines worldwide,” he said.

An accomplished flight instructor, Basu Roy accepted a job with Air Wisconsin Airlines, a regional partner of United Airlines.

“I joined them as a first officer about three years ago and accumulated more than 3,000 hours in total flight time. I now have more than 1,500 hours in jet time,” he said.

He became an airline captain at age 24, then Basu Roy turned his attentions to reaching his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut.

“I applied for the U.S. Navy in 2016, thinking that someday it will open a pathway for me to apply for Test Pilot School, which will make it easier for me to one day be a NASA astronaut,” he said.

During his application process, the Navy stopped recruiting people without a residency card due to a government directive. Undeterred, Basu Roy continued to look for a way to chase his dreams of becoming an astronaut and serve his country. Since he is not an American citizen yet, he is not eligible to be an Air Force pilot. But he talked to an Air Force recruiter who explained that he could enlist. He set his sights on joining the Air Force Reserve.

“When I first met Basu Roy, I was impressed because he was a 24-year-old airline pilot,” said Tech. Sgt. Reynaldo Rodriguez, a line recruiter with the 351st Recruiting Squadron. “He was willing to join as an enlisted member, with hopes of becoming a pilot later. He did whatever we asked of him. He has always been motivated. He has always been active and confident in everything he does. I never had an issue with him.”

Basu Roy was all set to join the Reserve in late 2019, when an opportunity he couldn’t refuse came up. He received an offer from United Airlines to transfer from the regional carrier to the main airline.

“So I stopped the enlistment process for some time,” he said. “My plan was to start with United and then eventually enlist in the Reserve.”

“Back around November of 2019, he told me he had to take a break because he was transferring airline positions with United,” Rodriguez said. “I told him that was a great civilian opportunity and to not pass it up. He appreciated the honesty and said he would definitely stay in touch and continue the process someday. To be honest, I wasn’t sure if I would ever hear from him again.”

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit and the commercial aviation industry suffered a major slowdown, Basu Roy’s position at United was put on hold and he thought it would be the perfect time to begin his military career.

“I saw that the aviation industry would take at least another year to recover completely,” he said. “I decided to complete my process for enlistment and training with the Air Force Reserve.”

While he is excited about serving as an Airman, he still has some loftier goals in mind.

“My job for now will be air transportation,” he said. “My immediate next goal is to get selected by any pilot board within the Air Force Reserve, anywhere in the continental United States for an undergraduate pilot training slot and eventually make it to the Test Pilot School.”

With his sight set on still becoming an astronaut one day, he has already been accepted for a doctoral degree in unmanned aerial systems once he completes his master’s degree.

“I chose Unmanned Systems because I believe that is the future as everything will go pilotless with Artificial Intelligence,” he said. “Having my Ph.D. in Unmanned Systems, I will be future ready.”

As he continues to build his resume Basu Roy set his sights on his ultimate dream.

“This year, for the first time, I applied for NASA’s astronaut program as a civilian,” he said. “I know nobody gets selected as an astronaut on the first attempt, so I will keep on trying until I fulfill this life goal from my childhood. I will be an Air Force Reserve pilot and then, soon enough, a NASA astronaut. That day will be my dream come true.”

Basu Roy realizes he doesn’t slow down even to enjoy an accomplishment before moving to another one, but he hasn’t reached his final goal yet.

“I must say this has not been a comfortable journey for me. I achieved so much in such a short period only because of my dedication,” he said. “I have to sacrifice so many things in my life so that I can stay on track. It gets tough and sometimes challenging to work and study simultaneously. I will use one of the Air Force core values, which is ‘Excellence in All We Do.’ Hard work and dedication will always pay you back.”

While he continues to chase his dreams, Basu Roy gives a lot of credit for his values and the success he has achieved so far to his parents.

“I believe I am a photocopy of my father,” he said. “He was a highly respected and now-retired police officer and a president medal awardee. My mom was a housewife. They taught me early in life how important it is to have high moral and ethical values. Watching them, I learned how to value an organization and have high respect for people in uniform or people in general. We should make sure we do our best to make our employer succeed. I inherited that kind of strong work and life ethics from them.”

His story resonated with Rodriguez since both of his parents immigrated to the U.S. for a better life.

“His story is special to me,” Rodriguez said. “When I hear his story and what he went through, I remember my family going through similar situations. As his recruiter, it gave me a greater purpose to help him fulfill his dream,” 

Basu Roy also gives a lot of credit to the people who have helped him in his new country.

“I am so grateful to the United States of America and its people,” he said. “Today, whatever I am, a lot of credit goes to those who came into my life and left a positive impact on me. I can succeed in my life because of the help I got from so many kind people. I would like to thank the United States of America for giving me so many enormous opportunities. This is and will forever be a land of opportunity. Dreams do come true here. God bless America!”