Pilot's widow graduates fire academy, squadron attends ceremony to show support

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A show of support today for the widow of a local Air National Guard pilot who lost his life just days ago in a plane crash.

"We knew that Taz couldn't be here and we wouldn't want her to be going through her graduation without the people that love her," said Lt. Col. Russ Piggott.

The wife of Lieutenant Colonel Billy "Taz" Sullivan graduated from the Fresno City College Fire Academy on Friday, with members of his squadron by her side.

Diane Waters Sullivan was one of more than 30 cadets to graduate. Though her late husband couldn't be there, his squadron wouldn't let Diane take the stage alone. They were all in that audience to show their support.

For Diane Waters Sullivan the past few months haven't been easy.

"It's surreal, it was a long hard 6 months," said Sullivan.

When she graduated on Friday, it was without her husband by her side.

"He was my biggest supporter, my biggest fan," said Sullivan. "He taught me to never to quit, to try my best and I wish he could be here today."

It was just Tuesday that her husband, Lt. Col. Billy Sullivan of the 144th Fighter Wing, was killed in a plane crash at the Porterville airport.

RELATED: Guard members at 144th Fighter Wing grieve for airman killed in crash

"He was the one encouraging her, that rock to keep her on the path," said Billy Sullivan's friend George Moore, "to be as great as she is."

His squadron wouldn't let Diane graduate alone, filling up the back rows of the ceremony to show their support.

"One thing that's amazing about our first responder family is we're going to carry each other when things are down," added Lt. Col. Russ Piggott.

Diane says it's the support she needed to make it through the ceremony.

"It was everything," said Sullivan. "I immediately broke down. I'm really glad to have that military family."

She says there's a journey ahead, but she's looking forward to a new career with the Kingsburg Fire Department.

"I instantly felt like I fit in there," said Sullivan. "I told Billy, this is where I'm supposed to be."

Her fellow cadets also showed their support of Diane, each presenting a flower in honor of Sullivan. Diane plans to start with the Kingsburg Fire Department this month.
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