Long before he ever flew in a plane, Alvin Holsey dreamed of someday becoming a pilot.
Growing up in Fort Valley, his closest contact to an aircraft was watching a yellow crop duster spraying a soybean field, and he was fascinated at how it came in low and slow.
"I was bagging groceries at the Piggly Wiggly and I remember telling the manager of the store I wanted to be a pilot," he recalled. "He said, 'Being a pilot is too hard.' "
Holsey didn't let that skepticism deter him, and joined the Navy to fulfill his dream. He was 21 the first time he ever flew on a plane, taking a ride on a C-9 as an orientation flight for college Navy ROTC midshipmen. Two years later, he made his first solo flight as a pilot, flying a T-34 trainer.
He became a helicopter pilot, and had fulfilled his dream, but never imagined how far he would go beyond that. He has risen to the rank of rear admiral, and on June 12, he was put in command of the Carl Vinson Strike Group. It's a massive fighting force that includes the U.S.S. Carl Vinson aircraft carrier, plus six other warships, over 7,000 sailors and 75 aircraft.
Soon after he took command, the group departed its home port in San Diego to participate in Rim of the Pacific, the world's largest naval military exercise, involving 25 nations and 25,000 personnel. Participants practice scenarios from major combat to disaster relief to test how different countries can work together in a crisis.
Holsey credited his success to his parents and the life he lived growing up in Fort Valley. His mother was a longtime school teacher in Warner Robins and his father was a Korean War veteran and an engineer at Robins Air Force Base.
"My parents were really big on the hard work, respect, discipline and church upbringing," he said in an interview by phone from the U.S.S. Carl Vinson as it sat in Pearl Harbor. "We were required to go to church every Sunday, which I still try to make it every Sunday if I can."
He also remembered a former commander who once wrote in his fitness report that he was a "future commanding officer." Holsey had never considered that until then, but then he started moving in that direction.
Holsey, 52, is a 1983 graduate of Peach County High School, where he was a starting defensive back on the football team for three years. He later returned to land a helicopter for an event at the school. He earned a bachelor's degree in computer science from Morehouse College and then a master's degree in management from Troy State University.
While Holsey's father has passed, his mother, Rosa, still lives in Fort Valley.
Eugene Fluellen, retired police chief at Fort Valley State University, has known Holsey all of his life. He isn't surprised to see the success Holsey has had in the military.
"He was very disciplined," Fluellen said. "He was raised right with all the rules and regulations his parents had. He didn't hang out like a lot of the kids did."
Fluellen noted that Holsey had a brother who went on to become a doctor and another who is a successful businessman. Holsey was best friends with Greg Lloyd, who went on to become a five-time Pro Bowl linebacker for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The flagship of the group Holsey commands holds a familiar name. Carl Vinson was a U.S. representative from Georgia who is credited with helping persuade the War Department to establish Robins, as well as significant expansion of the Navy. Carl Vinson Parkway in Warner Robins is named in his honor.
"I think he would proud of the fact that a local boy from Fort Valley is commanding the Carl Vinson Strike Group," he said.
Holsey still keeps up with the what's happening in Fort Valley and follows the Peach County High football team. He was well familiar with the controversial state championship game last year in which he, as well as many others, said the team was "robbed" of the title on a bad call from an official.
"I've been all over the world," he said, "but I think growing up in a community like Fort Valley you get a sense of community and a sense of pride."
An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that U.S. Rep. Carl Vinson was a senator.