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NATCA Salutes Our Veterans

To all our NATCA veterans, thank you for your service to our country. Our Union honors your sacrifice while keeping our nation safe and protecting our liberty.

Veterans Day was originally known as Armistice Day. Celebrated annually on Nov. 11, it commemorated the end of World War I in 1919. It became a legal federal holiday in 1938. After the end of World War II in 1945, Veterans Day was expanded to pay tribute to all Americans, whether living or dead, who have served our country honorably during war or peacetime.

There are approximately 19.5 million living veterans in the United States and approximately two million – or nine percent – of those veterans are women. California, Florida, and Texas each have over one million veterans living in their states, but the states with the highest percentages of veterans include Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Montana, Wyoming, and Virginia. In NATCA alone, there are at least 4,800 members that have served in the military, with 360 of them being women.

To celebrate Veterans Day, we asked several NATCA brothers and sisters about their military service. A sampling of responses is below. 



US ARMY

Holly Denny

Why did you join the military?

I joined to assist with the cost of college.

Branch of service? Why did you pick that branch?

I chose the Army because my family members (prior military) suggested it.

Years of service?

19.5 years so far

Highest rank achieved? 

CW3 so far

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

I listened to what I was told and tried to “stay below the radar”.

Duty stations where you served?

2003-2004 Camp Udairi, Kuwait; 2004 hurricane support (Florida); 2005 hurricane support (Florida); 2009-2010 Camp Liberty, Iraq; 2010 Oil Spill Support (Florida)

Did you see combat?

yes

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

Bronze Star Medal – under attack from indirect fire, I called in air support and ground quick reaction forces. We were able to locate the enemy forces and likely save many lives within Camp Liberty base and surrounding camps. 2 Army Commendation Medals- the first army commendation medal was for my first deployment. We successfully controlled over 120,000 air operations safely. I cannot remember what the second one was for. 3 Army Achievement Medals – these are for showing up and doing your job well. Army Good Conduct Medal – maintaining good conduct throughout my military career. Army Reserve Component Achievement Medal. National Defense Service Medal. Armed Forces Service Medal. Humanitarian Service Medal – State Active Duty In Support of hurricane preparation and recovery. Armed Forces Reserve Achievement Medal. Army Service Ribbon. Overseas Service Ribbon. Coast Guard Special Operations Service Ribbon- multi force integrated assistance for environmental assessment and recovery from oil spill in the gulf. Master Army Aviation Badge – 18+ years in aviation. Driver’s Mechanic Badge – never having an accident while driving military vehicles. 2 Armed Forces Mobilization Medals. Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary. Global War on Terrorism Services Medal. Iraqi Campaign Medal. Florida Related awards. Governor’s Citation. Unit Citation.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

I met my husband in the guard at our first drill in 2001. We married in 2008.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I have never left the military. I am still in the National Guard and don’t have a definite leave date yet.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

Military camaraderie to me is “enduring the suck” together and it’s fun because of the group that you are with. It’s a true shared understanding and common interest of the “end game”. I see similar characteristics with work and during stressful moments within the TRACON.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

My experiences in the military have broadened my understanding in every aspect of life.

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

My leadership skills, developed within the military, have greatly assisted me.

Jacob Neu

Why did you join the military?

I needed assistance paying for college.

Branch of service? Why did you pick that branch?

It allowed me to choose the job I wanted (15Q, Air Traffic Control).

Years of service?

6 years

Highest rank achieved? 

E4, Specialist

Duty stations where you served?

Fort Jackson (Boot Camp), Fort Rucker (Job training), Camp Ripley, MN (Unit Station), FOB Diamondback Mosul, Iraq (Deployment)

Did you see combat?

Yes, I served under a year in Mosul, Iraq, starting in August 2008.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

Yes, I received the Army Commendation Medal for serving as Training Supervisor and Shift Supervisor in the tower at ORBM Airport.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

Absolutely, I did. Many of my closest friends are from my time served. I maintain contact with many of them, some of whom also now work in different capacities inside the FAA:  Dan Mork at BJC, Curtis Jansen at M98, and Zack Kolle at ZTL just to name a few.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I always had an interest in aviation. Before I joined the National Guard, I attended the University of North Dakota for commercial aviation. After Sept. 11, 2001, that changed to air traffic control. After running out of funds, I joined the National Guard for college assistance as well as the ability to train as an air traffic controller in the military. Throughout my time in the military I was working on being hired by the FAA, finally getting my initial offer the day I landed in Kuwait for my deployment to Iraq.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

My service changed my life immensely. I received training as an air traffic controller, which led to a job as a contract controller at KEAU FCT, which eventually led to my job with the FAA. Additionally during my service, I met my wife and some of my closest friends to date.

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

The military taught me discipline and how to work hard to reach a goal. I also learned how to lead a group towards a common goal. I get to use those skills everyday as a certified professional controller, and also as an Alternate Area Rep at ZMP.


US MARINE CORPS

Mick Devine

Why did you join the military?

It was better than the other choice.

Branch of service? Why did you pick that branch?

United States Marine Corps.  Because there is only one branch!

Years of service?

1996-2001

Highest rank achieved?

Sergeant

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Just keep your head down and your eye on the prize.  Every Sunday I marked my cover with a tick.  13 ticks and I’d be done.

Duty stations where you served?

MCAS Cherry Point, Stewart ANGB, Randolph AFB, NAS Pensacola

Did you see combat?

Only once had a SAM fired in our direction over Kosovo.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

I was awarded 6 Medals and many citations.  They were for a variety of things from our time in Kosovo, to Operation Northern Watch in Northern Iraq/Western Turkey.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

You make lifelong friendships in the Marines. I am still in contact with a lot of the people I served with.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I was going to Columbia University for Applied Mathematics and Combinatorics.  The thought of doing that for the rest of my life seemed dreadful.  A hiring came out and I jumped on it.  Speaking with Air Traffic Controllers throughout my time in the Marines instilled some interest to try the job.  It seemed fun.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union?

You commit to give your life for the guy next to you and they have done the same for you.  It doesn’t get any closer of a bond. And nobody outside understands the little things or speaks the military language, so it becomes difficult for your other friends to relate.  That’s the closest thing relating to being a facrep.  Most members do not see all the time and sacrifice that goes into everything you do, they just see the outcome.  You very rarely ever get a thank you. Only being amongst other FacReps will you get people who truly understand and appreciate the lengths you go day in and day out.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I am an Air Traffic Controller because of the Marines. I am the leader I am because of the Marines. I don’t know where I’d be today if I didn’t enlist, but I know it wouldn’t be here.

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

Educate, mentor, empower.   Let your people take credit for the good, and you take the blame when things don’t go well.  Put people in the best position to succeed and don’t get in their way.  A good leader leads people from above, a great leader leads people from within.

Joel Ortiz

Years of service?

1995-2003 (8years)

Highest rank achieved?

Staff Sergeant

Duty stations where you served?

After boot camp, I was fortunate enough to be placed in air traffic control as my military occupational specialty and I left for Pensacola, Fla., to begin my training.

Amanda Rochester

Why did you join the military?

Long story short, I didn’t know what Career path I wanted to take. I also didn’t want to waste my parents money going to college so I joined.

Branch of service? Why did you pick that branch?

I originally talked to a navy recruiter but ultimately picked the Marines because I thought they were the best of the best. 

Years of service?

Joined as a reservist and spent 2 1/2 years active and 3 1/2 years in the reserve (6years total). 

Highest rank achieved?

E-5 Sergeant

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

One day at a time and tried to be invisible! It was difficult being pushed almost to your breaking point, but I knew it was worth the end result. On another note, our drill instructors were fantastic at roasting us so it was torture trying to keep our bearing and not laugh!

Duty stations where you served?

MCAS Cherry Point, North Carolina and Joint Reserve Base Fort Worth, Texas

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

Controller of the Quarter at Cherry Point

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

Absolutely, it’s almost impossible not to find that type of camaraderie. You go through too much not to stick together, and they become your family in a way. I also keep in contact with quite a few of them, social media helps!

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I picked ATC because I wanted a career path that directly translated to the civilian sector. I ended up really enjoying it and didn’t think twice about applying for the FAA.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union?

It really is a special bond you form with each other after going through the “suck.” When you join you’re forced away from your family and friends. A foreign and stressful environment tends to make you cling to each other. Like I said earlier, they become not only your friends but your family! I don’t think anything will compare to the Marine Corps camaraderie, but the union has a very similar feel. The union treats its members like family. I’ve seen first hand that when disaster strikes they are the first ones there. We lookout for one another just like in the military! 

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

It gave me an avenue into air traffic and I am forever grateful. It was one of the hardest things I ever did, but now I feel like I can do anything I put my mind to. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

  The military pushed me out of my comfort zone on about a million things. Some of the skills I learned included public speaking, confidence and adaptability.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered? 

As a woman and a reservist in the marine Corps, life was not easy for me. To many of my male and active duty peers, I was not a “real Marine.” It felt like a constant uphill battle that I couldn’t win. Even though my experience in the Marines was very challenging, I feel like it made me a better and stronger person. I hope that my experience sets a good example for other women, and inspires them to break the stereotypes associated with gender biases! We are smart, strong, and capable!

Mike Weekley

Why did you join the military?

I joined the military because of 9-11 and wanted to serve my country. 

Why did you pick that branch?

I picked the Marines because my grandfather was a Marine. 

Years of service?

2003-2007

Highest rank achieved? 

Corporal

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Writing lots of letters and sticking together with guys in my platoon.

Duty stations where you served?

Boot camp at Parris Island, SC. ATC school in Pensacola, Fla. Then off to MCAS in New River, N.C. Al Taqaddum Iraq and back to MCAS at New River 

Did you see combat?

Yes, Served in OIF 05-06 (Operation Iraqi Freedom 2005-2006)

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

I was awarded Marine corps good conduct, National Defense, Operation Iraqi Freedom, Marine corps seas service deployment, Global war on terrorism. I also received several Meritorious Masts, Letters of commendation and Letters of appreciation. One that stands out was calling in air support while in Iraq to help some helicopters that had been shot with at the time CPL Jeff Riley. 

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships?

Yes. I made several close friendships. One in particular Dustin Hayes from central Ohio where I currently reside, and Jeff Riley from PA. Yes I keep in touch with lots of brothers and sisters I met in the Marines. And still get together with several when we can. 

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I was an Air Traffic Controller in the Marine Corps and my step father was a civilian pilot. He steered me in the direction of both a military and civilian controller. 

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union?

It’s hard to describe it unless you’ve experienced it. It’s a bond that can never be broken, and will last a lifetime. Yes the sister and brotherhood within NATCA is similar. We have each other’s backs and generally all have the same interest. Same as the military, our interest was to complete the mission and all ensure we make it home. 

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I left home at 17 years old. It taught me responsibility, leadership and work ethic quickly. I went to Iraq at 20 years old and that taught me pride and to be thankful for things we have.

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

As stated above, it taught me communication, leadership, accountability, respect, pride, to always be early and on time.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

I was also a rifle range coach for several years in the Marine Corps, helping Marines qualify on the range prior to deployments overseas and annual requirements for the Marine Corps. 


Lisa Cunningham

Why did you join the military?

I joined because my parents couldn’t afford to send me to college and I didn’t want to go into debt when I wasn’t 100% sure about what I wanted to do with my life.

Why did you pick that branch?

The recruiter was very nice to me. I’d always enjoyed the ocean and it seemed like the most opportunity for me to “see the world”

Years of service?

5 Active and 3 years selective reserve.

Highest rank achieved? 

E5

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

I actually thrived in the “controlled environment”. I also had a lot of support from my mom and a deep love and trust in God to carry me through. 

Duty stations where you served?

USS Harry S. Truman, USS Theodore Roosevelt,  Naval Station Norfolk

Did you see combat?

I was deployed to The Persian Gulf and was stationed on a ship so I didn’t see any first hand combat. I was deployed in support of OEF and OIF.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

Naval Achievement Medal, Meritorious service, Sea Service and Battle E. Several letters of commendation, and my Shellback certificate.  Mostly just due to being deployed to specific areas and the length of time. I did have a pretty significant save out to sea which resulted in a NAM and a Flag Letter of Condemnation. But the letter that I received from the pilot’s wife was my greatest treasure from that save. The majority of my letters of recommendation were due to the fact that I was surrounded by many people that worked very hard and made me look good by default. I had an excellent team and was honored to serve with and lead those people.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships?

So many of them. I was blessed to be surrounded by many inspiring and wonderful people. Thankfully, many of them are NATCA members now, so we get to continue our working relationships. One of my dearest friends from the service was in the delivery room when my oldest was born. We still call and encourage each other. There are several friends that I’ve stayed in touch with, and many are now in the FAA. I was hosting a solidarity event in LNK and when I showed up, I ran into a woman that I was friends with in the Navy and we’d lost touch. She was like a big sister to me when I was in my first year of service. She took such good care of me and looked out for me. It was an incredible day when I was able to reconnect with her at that event. I am not sure that she knew how much she meant to me, but I was able to tell her and her husband and thank her for everything.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I wanted a good life for my children. I left two babies at home on my last deployment which was incredibly difficult and painful. As a mother, kissing my 2 year old and my infant goodbye on the pier was one of my most difficult life moments. Thankfully, my husband was incredible, but, after that deployment, I wanted to find a job that would allow me to be closer to my husband and kids. I absolutely fell in love with air traffic control when I was on my second deployment and realized how important our job was. I never wanted to do anything else from that point on. 

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union?

I absolutely loved the camaraderie I felt in the Navy. We were stand-in spouses when babies were born and husbands were deployed. When we were deployed, we celebrated holidays together. We cheered for the new father/mother when their significant other gave birth and they couldn’t be there. We became each other’s family in the absence of our own. We stood by one another when we were scared or confused. We didn’t always understand the mission, but we had each other’s back in the midst of it. I learned a ton about other cultures and it was the first time I was regularly around people that looked differently than I did and grew up differently than I did. I learned about diversity and I learned all about duty and loyalty. I felt like the relationships and friendships will be unmatched. But when I joined the FAA and learned about NATCA, I found the same family camaraderie that I never thought I would be able to find again. When you go to a NATCA event and meet your brothers and sisters for the first time. you are only strangers for a few hours. Then you become lifelong friends. You grow your network and your family with every introduction. The union is all about camaraderie and inclusion. There is a duty for everyone and a way to feel fulfilled. I have never met an organization that welcomes diversity and inclusion as much as NATCA. Just because we aren’t deploying, we are still going through our own version of tough experiences.  People in this union join together to celebrate personal and professional accomplishments and join together to support one another in periods of difficulty. Our members are generous with their time, money, and care. I feel like an equal to all of my peers and believe my future is bright, because of NATCA.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

Joining the military was the single greatest choice of my life. I found independence, a hard work ethic, and never ending compassion. I found my own self worth. I met my husband (another NATCA controller now) in the Navy, and we’ve been together almost 16 years. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA?

I feel that I developed the ability to be a compassionate and effective leader. I saw the qualities in my leaders that I both wanted to emulate and ones that I never wanted to repeat. I also learned the importance of developing talent. There are so many excellent people that just need someone to believe in them and push them and help them find a place to “belong”. I was one of those people, and if it wasn’t for someone recognizing my potential, I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

I’m so thankful to all of my Union brothers and sisters that have served their country and continue to do so.


US AIR FORCE (USAF)

Jaime Honeycutt

Why did you join the military?

It’s a funny story. I never thought about joining the military until one of my friends wanted me to go with her to the Air Force recruiting booth at a career fair. When I got there, I thought it was very interesting and had a lot to offer.  My friend did not join and I ended up enlisting, and my friend went on to college. 

Why did you pick that branch?

There were a couple of reasons why I picked the Air Force. First, my dad served in the Navy, and my uncles served in the Marines, Navy, and Army, and honestly, I wanted to be/try something different. 

Second, in high school I had a food and nutrition teacher whose husband served in the Air Force and she told me all about their lifestyle and way of life. She made it sound so exciting and adventurous. She told me I could go anywhere I wanted in the world because there are Air force bases everywhere. Wanting to leave Minnesota for a warmer climate, I started looking at Air Force bases in the south or overall warmer climates worldwide. I found Florida had numerous bases and my favorite being MacDill AFB in Tampa, Fla. I had family there and loved Florida, so it seemed to be the best choice for me.

Years of service?

6 years on active duty and 2 years in the inactive reserves. 

Highest rank achieved? 

E-5/Staff Sergeant

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

How does anyone get through boot camp? Just pray! It is a mind game and you need to get your mind laser focused. You have to tell yourself you can do it no matter what. I will not lie, I wanted to give up many times but then something would happen and propel me further. It was such a feeling of accomplishment when I would complete a course or improve my physical strength. It made me want to be a better person. Also, you relied on the people going through it with you and sometimes they were all you had. I hated failure and I would not allow myself to give in to doubt.

Duty stations where you served?

Columbus AFB, Mississippi and TDY (temporary duty) in Bosnia-Herzegovina at Tuzla AB in the months right after 9/11.

Did you see combat?

No combat. Tuzla AB was a peacekeeping mission but we still carried M16’s and were trained for a possible base invasion from the Serbian military at any time. 

Were you awarded any medals or citations? 

Air Force Commendation Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Air Force Longevity Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, NATO Medal, Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with 1 device, Good Conduct Medal, Humanitarian Service Medal, and Global War on Terrorism Medal. 

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

When people say it is a small world, it really is. I have made so many friends and they are spread all over the world. I might not talk to them as often as I would like, but when we do see each other or speak on the phone, we start up right where we left off. With all of the social media today, we have a lot more opportunity to communicate and watch each other’s families grow. We share a bond that will last forever, and I will forever be grateful for the time I served my country alongside them.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

When I took my ASVAB test for the Air Force, air traffic control was one of the jobs I was able to select. My recruiter told me that it was a great job in the Air Force and very competitive on the civilian side as well. I honestly did not know what it was at first, but I am so glad that I picked this career. The military was great but it was a complete lifestyle, unlike the FAA, and not just a career. I wanted a career with more stability and the FAA offered that. 

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

When I took that oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies foreign and domestic, I got goosebumps. It was something so honorable and loyal, and unless you have served, it is hard to describe. When I served next to friends, I knew we shared a common bond. It is a special camaraderie because any one of us would lay down our lives for a complete stranger at any time. They become your family away from family. We respected each other because we had each gone through or were still going through military training together. Friendships in the Union are similar because we work alongside each other and support each other through busy times and also share a common interest in NATCA values. We are all NATCA and our voices are important to support and uphold our rights.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

Serving my country was an honor and something I carry with me every day. It was the best decision I ever made. I feel it gave me opportunities that I probably wouldn’t have even thought of in college. I was 18 when I left, so I grew up very quickly and had to learn responsibility in many different ways. I also learned about leadership and how it can impact a facility negatively or positively. Air traffic control in the FAA is a job that you rely on others for support or assistance in order for you to succeed. Being in the military was where I learned that first. I look back fondly on my time in the military and cherish the friendships I was able to make. 

Why did you join the military?

I was ready for a change and to get away from home (PA). I didn’t have a job in mind, but was told to make sure I had one going in. Air traffic was the third one offered and the one I took, obviously.

Why did you pick that branch?

My family is made up of Army Veterans, and I grew up in the Army. When I started to talk about joining the military, my mom told me to join the Navy or Air Force, and my dad said Air Force. Their main reasons were the difference in how they took care of their people compared to the Army. 

Years of service?

2001-2005

Highest rank achieved? 

E4

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Getting through basic training wasn’t necessarily easy, but I also knew what to expect. I definitely had a couple of challenges, but challenges make us better people, right?

Duty stations where you served?

I was stationed at McChord AFB here in Washington for my whole career. I did deploy to Al Udeid, Qatar in support of Enduring Freedom. 

Did you see combat?

Fortunately, I didn’t have to see combat, but the experience I got for air traffic was bar none. The mix of fleets, the complexity, language barriers, working with host nations, etc., was all valuable experience.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

I did have quite a few close friendships, and some that still remain. I met my husband in the military, and we just celebrated our 15 year anniversary. We may not see a lot of our friends from our military days, but they are there when we need them. For my birthday this year, my husband coordinated a birthday song with so many of our friends from past and present, and these military friendships were the ones that brought tears to my eyes.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

When I left the military, I knew I wanted to continue working with airplanes. It was the low tide for hiring within the FAA at that point, but after almost two years, I got the call for Seattle ATCT. I am thankful everyday to be in a position that helps others get to their loved ones, to get to work, to get home because they have an ill family member, or they are finally returning home after a long absence. To know that I have some role in getting them home, makes me happy.  Cheesy, I know.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

Military camaraderie is our version of solidarity. You are going through the same thing as someone else, or you have a common theme in life that you are working on/through.  I think there are some similarities between the two, but ultimately, I think it depends on where we are in time as far as how strong that bond is in either circumstance. Early on in my FAA career, I believe I had a strong bond with a majority of peers much like the military, but once family life started to pick up for everyone, priorities changed. When you talk about NATCA things, again, it depends where we are in our personal life.  In my role now, I see the solidarity quite a bit. I can only hope that what I see filters to all levels because it is a force to be reckoned with.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

My service and the experiences I gathered from the AF didn’t necessarily make me who I am, but it helped contribute to who I am. I believe as an individual I am ever evolving through different life experiences. My service definitely gave me a sense of pride, but one that I keep internalized.

Marc Schneider

Why did you join the military?

My family has a long history in the military dating all the way back to the War for Independence.  My mother and sister are in the D.A.R with my Great, Great, Great, Great, Great grandfather as the qualifying service member from the 2nd Battalion of Westmoreland County Militia. Our family has served in every major campaign since: Civil War, World War (WW) 1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam, Desert Storm, Desert Shield, and the Iraq-Afghanistan wars. My wife Wendy, a retired controller from ZID,  served in the USAF, each of our five children served and are serving: Matthew is currently active duty Army; Sami was in the Indiana Army National Guard; Austin was in the Army; and Toria and Ben currently serve in the Indiana National Guard.

Years of service?

I retired after 23 years after serving in the Air force, Air National Guard, and the Indiana Army National Guard as a CW3. My family strongly believes it is our duty to serve. 

Duty stations where you served?

I deployed six times while being a controller at ZID. I have had boots on the ground in every continent, except Australia and Antarctica.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I learned about being part of something bigger than myself from the military.  I learned that I am only as good as those around me and I learned that teamwork and drive can get you through anything.  These same principles have directed me in my leadership roles in NATCA. One Team, One fight!

Jennifer Malloy

Why did you join the military?

I joined the AF for a few reasons: both my grandfathers fought in WWII; I wanted to travel; and most importantly, I wanted it to pay for art and design school. 

Why did you pick that branch?

After talking to all the recruiters, it appeared to be the best option for me. 

Years of service?

2001-2005

Highest rank achieved? 

Senior Airman, E-3

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Physically bootcamp was a breeze for me. I was 18 and fresh out of lacrosse season. But I was also born and raised in New York, so being in San Antonio, Texas, at the beginning of July was an entire set of new challenges. I had never experienced heat like that and anyone who knows me, knows that was rough. I chose the top bunk bed at boot camp under the air conditioning unit (yes, we had AC). Mentally, I had a goal. I grew up with a father who was a part of the corrections certified response team, taught self defense to the police department, corrections department, and border control. I watched him lesson plan and learn what he needed to do to break people down to their basics and build them back up into confident “warriors”.

Duty stations where you served?

Pope AFB NC and deployed to Al Udeid, Qatar.

Did you see combat?

I deployed to a “safe” base and worked the planes coming and going to combat.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? 

I was once airman of the year.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

Absolutely. They become your family. Many of them are in the FAA now and I talk to most of them regularly. I love when I get to see them at NATCA events! When you’re training at 19 years old and you see an A-10 recovery coming in from the TRACON on the D-brite (definitely aging myself here), and you look at your trainer with a small bit of panic and she looks at you and says, “Are you serious?”, you work harder, learn faster. I didn’t want to disappoint her, myself or that Supervisor of Flying (SOF) standing a few feet from me. I still talk to both of them to this day.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I joined thinking I was going to continue studying advertising and design. I quickly fell in love with the air traffic control operation, the fast pace, decision making, and orderly flow. I loved and still love working planes. I can’t explain the feeling of when you’re in a tower and you feel those fighter jets shaking the ground under your feet. Now in a radar facility, arrival rushes are my favorite. 

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

You’re trained to be a wingman and to have a wingman. No wingman is left behind. In the military, you’re always looking out. When in training together, you never know where our paths will take us, but you continue showing up as the best version of yourself, while expecting your wingman to do the same. No matter where the path takes you, you want to make sure you and your wingman are showing up with the highest form of excellence to have your back in a combat zone, working an intense push and saving you the perfect seat at squadron calls.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I have friends all over and I’ve learned so much about other cultures, traditions, and all the different ways people are raised in our country alone. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA? 

I learned how we all come from different backgrounds. When you share your experiences and knowledge together you can create new ones and move mountains. You are never alone in the military, and I don’t like people feeling alone now. It only takes a minute to reach out to an inbound controller, and it makes a world of difference when you get to your first (or new) duty station or facility and you know someone. It’s our job to welcome and show them the ropes. Always leave things better than you found them.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

I stood in a tower where a Supervisor of Flying (SOF) would have a desk while fighters were flying. That added conversation and one-on-ones with pilots added so much to my air traffic control understanding. We were always encouraged to ride jump seats and have pilot talks.  Many times the pilots you talked to, you ended up seeing at the gym, commissary, or just out and about. It kept a human tied to the dash we now see on our scopes. I encourage you to welcome pilot controller conversations. To get involved in your local airshows, have a booth set up for pilots to come and chat. Invite pilots in. Get all trainees (especially our radar ones) up close and next to a B-747 or C-182 so they can have a better understanding of what they are asking a dash to do.  Listen to pilots experiences and challenges while moving a piece of tin through our skies.  When you’re a trainee frustrated over someone instructing while you’re working, imagine how a single pilot feels when they’re flying and listening. Speak to them the way you want to be spoken to.

Rachael Plantz

Why did you join the military?

I joined the military because I wanted to do something exciting with my life, and working an average 9-5 job wasn’t as enticing as the photos the military recruiter showed me that I too could experience.

Why did you pick that branch?

It’s a funny story, but I was a senior in high school and knew little of the military. At the time, the Army had velcro name tags and that made me feel easily replaceable. The Navy was very concerned I had never partaken in drugs. I was just a signature away from the Marines, but my Dad talked me into the Air Force, so I joined them. 

Years of service?

I served just shy of 8 active duty and I have been in the guard for roughly 3 years.

Highest rank achieved? 

Currently a Staff Sergent (E-5) but I am working on commissioning.

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Boot camp was taken moment by moment. My goal was always to get to the next meal, mail time, or sleep until somehow, I got to the end. Getting my name on the uniform was a pretty huge accomplishment, as it showed tangible progress.

Duty stations where you served?

Keesler AFB, MS, Lackland AFB, TX, Al Udeid AB, Qatar, Osan AB, Korea, Davis Monthan AFB, AZ, McEntire ANGB, SC, Cheyenne ANGB, WY

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

I have made a few friends in the military that will last a lifetime, some from military spouses, but I found moving around frequently, the likelihood a relationship would last after the assignment was slim.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I was an air traffic controller in the military and the FAA was hiring. I figured it was my time to try a new challenge rather than continue my military career. I love being an air traffic controller, I fell in love with it during school and I wanted to be able to control traffic a lot longer than I would have been able to in the AF.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

I honestly only felt the camaraderie when I was deployed or when I was at an overseas assignment. You do everything together: go to the gym, explore, work together, moan, joke, and vent. The person or team needed you as much as you needed them. It was comforting to know you never really had to experience anything alone as almost everyone else was going through the same thing. When I left the deployments and came back to reality, it was a hard adjustment since you could no longer walk a couple doors down and see if someone wanted to go eat at the 24-hour dining facility or just hang out. Everyone was busy doing their own thing and it always felt like something was missing.

I think my current facility has similar vibes as a state-side base has. It is not as close knit but still a sort of family. Though a lot of activities don’t happen after work together, they still do a lot during work to make it feel like a home away from home. We have potlucks, talk in the tower or on breaks, and give each other a hard time in a family sort of way when something goofy is said.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

Being in the service taught me a lot of life lessons I think I would have learned a lot later in life or wouldn’t have learned at all. It helped me widen my view of the world and cultures. It allowed me the ability to explore while still ensuring I didn’t completely fail. I am very thankful for the opportunities I was given to travel, for the education opportunities, and friendships I’ve made.

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA? 

Leadership courses and values are preached heavily. I often lead booster clubs and volunteer organizations. I feel like I have a good understanding of how to project manage. It also showed me basic responsibilities like showing up early to appointments, keeping people in the loop on deadlines, and important events. It also taught me to have a basic level of respect for everyone, maybe even when you might not want to.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

The military has been good but there are a lot of situations that people may not understand military members go through. Suicide rates are high for a lot of reasons. Many cases are because people work long hours with no bonuses for the extra time. Years are spent away from families due to deployments or orders where they are unable to bring family, which means they miss out on life events. As well, there are physical and mental modifications that will affect people after their service. If you know someone in the military, it may go a long way to reach out to them and check on them. Send a message every once in a while so they know they haven’t been forgotten about. Most would love for loved ones to visit them. Everyone’s reason to join is different but the commitment can come at a great sacrifice that may be hard to see or understand if you have not had the experience.

Fabian Sanchez

Why did you join the military?

I decided to join the military because I wanted to become a pilot but couldn’t afford to complete my training and was opposed to a student loan.

Why did you pick that branch?

I joined the USAF because I was interested in pursuing a career in aviation.

Years of service?

4 years and 3 months

Highest rank achieved? 

E5 – Staff Sergeant

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

It was an unexpected eye opening experience for me since I did not know anyone in the military, but I feel that it was more of a test of character than physical abilities.

Duty stations where you served?

Grand Forks AFB, North Dakota.

Did you see combat?

I did not see combat, but I was deployed to Prince Sultan Air Base in Saudi Arabia for 5 months under Operation Southern Watch.

Were you awarded any medals or citations? 

AF Commendation Medal, AF Outstanding Unit Award, National Defense Service Medal, and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal for my deployment to Saudi Arabia.  AF Good Conduct Medal and  AF Longevity Service Award for completing 4 hours of honorable service.  Non Commissioned Officer Military Graduate Ribbon for graduating NCO leadership school.

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

I made many lifelong friendships while in the AF. Many of them are in the FAA now and I still communicate with them.

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I fell in love with air traffic control while I was in the Airforce and I wanted to continue that career after my separation from the AF.

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

Military camaraderie is like no other. It is easy to develop a strong connection with your peers since everyone is experiencing similar successes and struggles. This is very similar to the relationships that we develop within our facility, union, and profession.

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

Like most people, the military forced me to move away from home which helped me mature. Living away from home pushed me past my comfort zone on many occasions which helped me develop an appreciation for challenging myself. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA? 

My service and career experiences helped improve my communication skills as well as connected me with people from various backgrounds.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

I feel a huge amount of gratitude to the Airforce and the people that I met during my service. I wouldn’t be the person I am and be where I am today if I hadn’t served. I am extremely proud of being a U.S. Veteran.

Donald White

Why did you join the military?

  Like many, my family could not afford to send me to college so joining the military was always an option. Then 9/11 happened and joining jumped to the top of my list of options.

Why did you pick that branch?

My uncle was my role model growing up. He was an air traffic controller in the USAF so naturally I followed in his footsteps. He was instrumental in ensuring that I came into the Air Force with a guaranteed air traffic slot. 

Years of service?

  7.5 years

Highest rank achieved? 

  E-5, Staff Sergeant (SSgt)

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

  My upbringing and sports training in high school had me well prepared for boot camp. Upon arriving at Lackland AFB, my bus driver grabbed me by the elbow and said “Remember son, they can’t touch you”. That always stuck in the back of my mind. 

Duty stations where you served?

  Travis AFB,CA Yokota AB, Japan Balad AB, Iraq

Were you awarded any medals or citations? 

  2 Air Force achievement medals for outstanding achievements while in Iraq and the other for meritorious service at Travis AFB. 1 Commendation medal for meritorious service at Yokota AB in Japan. Also garnered the John L. Levitow Award for “demonstrating the highest degree of excellence as a leader and scholar” during Airman Leadership School. 

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

  Yes. Numerous life long friendships have come from my military service. A military bond is a bond like no other. 

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

  I felt like the FAA offered much more to my career as an air traffic controller than the military. 

Can you describe military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

  Military camaraderie is a special bond. These bonds tend to run deeper than many family bonds. We truly do look out for each other as brothers and sisters. There are a few similarities but it’s an apples to oranges comparison. 

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I tell the youth that I mentor all the time that I wouldn’t be where I am today without my military service. My service was filled with leadership training and opportunities so that has naturally spilled over into my life today. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA? 

Responsibilities as a leader, effective communication skills, and crew/team dynamics are just a few of the skills that I have taken with me from my military service.

Is there anything you would like to add that we have not covered?

I was chosen as controller of the rotation for my deployment to Iraq from September 2007-March 2008 with the 332nd Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron that stems from the legendary 332nd Fighter Group, better known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

Alana Zautner

Why did you join the military?

I joined to find some direction and structure in my life, serve my country, and of course for the educational benefits (GI Bill).

Years of service?

4 years

Highest rank achieved? 

E-5

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

I met my husband Jared while serving, and many friends who now work at various air traffic control facilities around the U.S. country, and of course for the educational benefits (GI Bill).


US COAST GUARD

John Murdock

Why did you join the military?

I joined the Coast Guard with the intent on becoming a helicopter pilot. Unfortunately or fortunately that didn’t work out and I’ve been on boats my entire career. I actually never have flown in a Coast Guard helicopter. It’s all boats all the time.

Branch of service? Why did you pick that branch?

I joined the CG for two reasons: the missions and flying. The Coast Guard’s domestic mission really appealed to me. I wanted to be heavily involved in search and rescue and law enforcement operations. I wanted to participate in the mission by being a pilot.

Years of service?

21 years

Highest rank achieved? 

Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate (E9)

How did you get through your boot camp training experience?

Boot camp was great and what I mean by great is when it was over. There were a few things that I focused on getting through training: 

  • A lot of people before me completed it so it’s not impossible;
  • Take one day at a time;
  •  I made it a goal that I wanted to complete; and
  • Most importantly mail call…there was nothing better than receiving letters in the mail.

Duty stations where you served?

CG Station Ponce de Leon, New Smyrna Beach, FL, CG RIO St. Thomas, USVI, CG MSD St. Croix, USVI, CG Station Charleston, Charleston, SC, CG Station Cape May, Cape May, NJ, CG Station Jones Beach, Freeport, NY, CG Sector Long Island Sound, New Haven, CT

Did you see combat?

no

Were you awarded any medals or citations? How did you get them?

Yes, the medals and ribbons I was awarded were due to hard work and participation in specific operations. (e.g. September 11th operations, Operation Noble Eagle, Space Shuttle Security Operations, Presidential and Summit security operations).

Did you make any close friendships while in the service? Did you continue any of those relationships? 

Absolutely, some of my closest friends are the ones I’ve made while in the Coast Guard. These are friendships that are over 20 years old and we continue to remain in contact with each other. 

Why did you decide on a career in aviation with the FAA after leaving the military?

I haven’t left the military yet; I am still a drilling reservist. I chose to become an Air Traffic Controller because I did not meet the requirements to be a Coast Guard pilot. Air Traffic Management was the degree program I graduated college with and ended up pursuing a career in Air Traffic. 

Can you describe the military camaraderie? Do you find any similarities with membership in our union? 

Members of the military are committed to the service of the country that is unparalleled in any other profession. Each member and their families know the sacrifice and commitment that is required to be a member of the service. We are there to support each other learning, living, and surviving. NATCA members are also committed to serving the nation and the men and women of the Union. Sticking together, we know we make a better team and are able to accomplish the mission more effectively. 

How did your service and experiences affect your life?

I think the question is how did it not affect my life? The Coast Guard taught me so many important skills to better myself. Communication, leadership, accountability, and humility are some of the skills the Coast Guard has instilled in me. The Coast Guard also taught me that setting goals is important. Even if those goals take years and decades to achieve, set them. 

What soft skills did you learn about in the military that help you now in your role in NATCA? 

There is no doubt the Coast Guard improved my learning, leadership and communication skills. As a national Article 114 Representative, I often interact with professionals within and outside of the government. Effective communication skills are critically important to the success of the issues being worked. Being accountable and credible is extremely important when working with the aviation industry addressing issues and new technologies.