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Zach Nibbelink ’14

When Zach Nibbelink '14 learned about the Army's Warrant Office Flight Training, he knew it was what he wanted to do. Little did he know that he'd meet fellow Green Terror and warrant officer Nick Giusti '08 in the same unit, seven years after Guisti had shared advice with him when Nibbelink was an aspiring warrant officer.

Alum Zach Nibbelink looks at the camera while sitting in an Apache helicopter cockpit.

Q&A with Zach Nibbelink '14

What made you choose McDaniel?
My dad, Gregg Nibbelink, has been the head athletic trainer at McDaniel since 1991. I grew up on the Hill, going to work with him after school. My familiarity with the college and the opportunity to play soccer were the two biggest reasons I chose McDaniel.
Describe your McDaniel experience in three words.
Sorry I overslept.
How did you choose your Political Science major??
I became interested in politics and foreign policy in high school. Going into college, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do for a living, so I chose a major that I enjoyed and wanted to learn more about. Prior to my senior year in college, I was still undecided on the path I wanted to take but wanted to explore a career in the military. I knew that my degree could open a lot of doors, making me well-rounded enough to have options after graduation.
How did the liberal arts curriculum prepare you for your career?
Taking a wide range of courses outside of my major made me more well-versed in topics that I may not otherwise have been exposed to. My Political Science degree gave me base-level knowledge of foreign affairs and political climates throughout the world, particularly in the Middle East. It allowed me a much better understanding of the different cultures I’ve experienced.
How did you go from Political Science major to Army helicopter pilot?
I graduated in 2014 and immediately started applying for the Army’s Warrant Officer Flight Training Program. I learned about the program while giving Army ROTC at McDaniel a try. I was accepted to flight school in 2016. I’ve wanted to fly for the military and serve my country ever since I was in grade school but wasn’t sure how to get there. The Army is the only branch of the military that allows civilians to join the service directly as a pilot, so it was an easy decision.
What are some highlights from your military career so far?
I love flying our missions, and it doesn’t get much better than zipping around treetops. Getting the opportunity to fly all over the world and experience new things has been my favorite part of being an Apache pilot. After graduating as an Apache pilot in 2018, I was stationed in Fort Hood, Texas. Since then, I have deployed to Afghanistan, South Korea, and most recently Eastern Europe.
What does your day-to-day look like?
I stay busy planning flights, studying, and going to the flight simulator. As an aviation safety officer, it’s also my job to enforce safety standards and ensure operations are completed according to regulation. I usually fly a couple days per week, sometimes on a night shift.
You ended up stationed in the same location as fellow McDaniel alum Nick Giusti ’08. How does finding McDaniel community so far from the Hill enhance your connection to the college?
Being in the Army, I spend a lot of time away from home and in unfamiliar places. It’s nice to be able to serve with someone who has similar roots and shared experiences. My dad was actually Nick’s athletic trainer when he was playing football at McDaniel, so he put us in touch back in 2016. I was a nervous and confused new warrant officer candidate, having just joined the Army. Nick was kind enough to answer my questions and help me know what to expect. Fast-forward seven years, and we end up in the same unit. Army aviation is a small community itself, so it’s pretty cool to share the McDaniel connection with Nick.
What lessons from McDaniel do you carry with you every day?
I learned the importance of hard work and perseverance during my time on the Hill, which has proved to be very valuable in the Army.
What advice would you give to current McDaniel students about creating a community that lasts beyond graduation?
Life can make it hard to stay close with the people who meant a lot to you while you were at McDaniel. Put all of yourself into keeping up with your friends, even after you graduate. Go the extra mile to stay present in your friends’ lives, and don’t miss an opportunity to keep meaningful relationships going.

About Zach

Career: Warrant Officer, Aviation Safety Officer, and Apache Pilot in the U.S. Army

Class: 2014

Major: Political Science

Below: Zach and his wife, Samantha, met during their time in flight school.