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Aug. 4, 2017 // “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” at Chicago Center

Earlier this summer, Chicago Center (ZAU) held the first “Bring Your Kid to Work Day” in more than 16 years. More than 160 kids, 80 employees, 50 chaperones, and 65 volunteers participated with the support and participation of members of NATCA, the Federal Aviation Administration Managers Association (FAAMA), the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE), and the Professional Aviation Safety Specialists (PASS). Together, the four organizations used the event to promote solidarity for all the ZAU employees and their families.

Structured, two-hour tours allowed kids to see and experience the various jobs in the busy, Level 12 facility. The day began with arts and crafts and registration followed by a presentation explaining the tour and establishing safety rules.

Sonia Taylor and Denville Pieters from ZAU technical operations provided tours of the wellness center, communication room, service operation center (SOC), and tech ops. This part of the tour was exciting even for longtime employees, many of whom hadn’t seen this side of the operation. This was the first time a large amount of visitors were allowed to tour the area since the ZAU fire and restoration in 2014.

The technical training lab (TTL) was set up for guests of all ages to control simulated traffic. The TTL gave controllers the opportunity to walk the young aviation enthusiasts through practice scenarios and have ghost pilots acknowledge and/or execute clearances.

“Dad, can I hit the buttons?” asked Aubrey Rhodes, age 4.

“It was super fun, and I liked practicing talking to airplanes!” said Preston Marzell, age 5.

Jennifer Gruber, a ZAU Northwest Area controller, organized a photo session with headsets and a radar background in the TTL, and photos were given out as souvenirs to participants.

Taylor Rhodes, age 13, said he enjoyed the live control room floor, but that the TTL lab was his favorite.

The live control room tour let visitors see air traffic control in action.

Steve Hommowun, a 28-year controller, said that the young visitors were fabulous, well-mannered, and had a great time. He thought the adult visitors also enjoyed seeing what their spouses and partners do for a living.

The Center Weather Service Unit (CWSU) and flight data also gave tours to highlight their roles in the National Airspace System.

“It’s nice to connect on a personal level with people that pilots hear as ‘voices on the radio.’ The ability to make face-to-face contact with people we work with every day is priceless. It furthers the pilot-controller relationship and advances safety,” said Jesse Marzell, spouse of a northeast area controller and Delta A320 pilot.

Air Traffic Manager Dale McNeal and ZAU NATCA FacRep Toby Hauck supported the effort and were instrumental in making the day a success. Committee members — including Will Rash (FLM, FAAMA), Michael Costanzi (STMC, FAAMA), Renee Neer (FLM), James Sulton (FLM), Lorena Salazar (TMC, NATCA), Jill DiMartino (TMC, NATCA), Jessica Broadway-Young (controller and NATCA member), and Milan Indrisek (controller and NATCA member) — arranged a unique experience for children of employees and young aviation enthusiasts at ZAU.

Careful planning and execution by committee members, security team, staff, controllers, tech ops, CWSU, flight data, and management allowed the event to run safely and smoothly, while minimizing distractions remained top priority.

“I am proud of the teamwork and collaboration shown by NATCA and management members on the planning committee,” Hauck said. “This was a huge step for this facility in showing appreciation for our employees.”

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