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Veterans of CHI

Veteran’s Day is so much more than just another day off from school or work. Originally called Armistice Day, it was a day created to honor the official end of the bloody conflict of World War 1. With time, it was expanded as a day to honor the sacrifices of all those who have served in the armed forces, past or present. Several staff members of CHI Aerospace have a military background and are either veterans or are still serving. We asked them a little about their experiences and what advice they might give to anyone looking to join the military.

From left to right and top to bottom: CFI, Dan Sullivan (United States Marine Corps); CFI, Michael "Mikey" McDonough (New Hampshire Air National Guard); Dispatcher, Kam Virkaitis (New Hampshire Air National Guard); CFII, Greg Craven (United States Air Force).

Question #1: Why did you decide to serve?

CFI, Mikey: I hadn’t put much thought into serving until senior year of high school.  My Dad put me in touch with a coworker of his at Delta Airlines who was also the previous Wing Commander at the 157th Air Refueling Wing who brought me into a recruiter.  I was given a tour of the base and the KC-135 Stratotanker and was immediately interested in joining.  The recruiter called me and told me there was a mechanic slot on the jet and I signed the dotted line a few days later.    

CFI, Dan: My grandfather was in the Army Air Corps during World War II, and was always an inspiration for me, so it was something I always wanted to do. I always wanted to serve and be a part of something bigger than myself, and earn the freedoms we get to enjoy.

CFII, Greg: My family has a long history of military service, so you could say it was in my blood. My grandfather served in WW-II, an uncle in Korea, my father in Vietnam, and older cousins during the Cold War. As I grew older, joining the military just made sense. I won the lottery being born in the USA and I needed to give back to the country that had already provided me with endless opportunities and the ability to be anything I wanted to be.

Dispatcher, Kam: My father served in the Coast Guard for 26 years, so it was kind of the family business in a sense. I wanted that sense of camaraderie and the opportunity to work with some of the coolest technology around all while giving back to my community and nation.

Question #2: What made you pick the branch you did?

CFI, Dan: There was always something about the Marines that appealed to me, the way they carried themselves, always being first in the fight, the history of the organization. I was joining the military as an officer and the selection process for the Marines is the toughest path, but it appealed to me. I knew that if I could do that I could do anything. 

Dispatcher, Kam: Towards the end of high school, I knew I wanted to join the military, but was unsure if I wanted to follow in my father’s footsteps and join the Coast Guard or follow my love of aviation and join the Air Force. A family friend was a pilot with the 157th Air Refueling Wing so I thought it would be a good idea to pick his brain and get some more info on the unit and the branch as a whole. After meeting up with him, seeing the unit, and getting the advice of both him and the other pilots, it solidified the Air Force as my number one pick.

CFII, Greg: My father was in the US Air Force and he loves planes! As far back as I can remember growing up, he would take me to Hanscom Air Force Base every year to watch the Thunderbirds. The first time the solo aircraft snuck up from behind in full afterburner just below the speed of sound, startling all the spectators (myself included), I was hooked and I knew being an Air Force fighter pilot was what I wanted to be!

CFI, Mikey: Given my life long interest in aviation, [the Air Force] was the only option for me.

Question #3: What was a favorite experience you had while serving/memorable experiences?

CFII, Greg: I will never forget meeting the Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) that we had been supporting during my 2011 deployment to Afghanistan. These JTACs were Air Force, but were boots on the ground, outside the wire of the large protected air base and were responsible for controlling combat aircraft during close air support. For 6 months we would hear the same voices, sometimes calm, sometimes with a high pitch and excited tone as incoming enemy fire could be heard in the background of their radio transmissions. Being able to put a face to the familiar voices, knowing they were safe and returning to their families because of the precision air power we had delivered was the pinnacle of my career.

Dispatcher, Kam: While my military career is still in its early stages, I will never forget the very first time I was tasked with fixing an engine on the line. I had just gotten back from tech school and as soon as we got to the jet and opened up the engines, it really hit me that I was playing an important role in keeping the aircraft flying and helping the crew stay safe. I felt a sense of accomplishment afterwards that not only was I trained and capable to do the job relatively on my own, but that I was trusted to do it and keep our jets in the air. 

CFI, Mikey: My deployment to Qatar was by far my favorite experience.  I met some great people over there who made the deployment very enjoyable and being over there really gives you a sense of purpose.  All of those long training hours are so worth it when you get to watch the jets you just fixed fly off for more sorties.

CFI, Dan: There’s so many to list, but it was an honor getting to deploy to Afghanistan and support the combat forces on the ground. Being a young 24 year old officer deploying to a warzone and responsible for 50 Marines was life changing, and being a NATO mission we got to work with a ton of partner nations. Serving set me up for the rest of my life and career with the leadership training I received and challenges that I faced. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the people that I served alongside, lifelong bonds that I’ll never forget. 

Question #4: What advice would you give to anyone aspiring for a career in military aviation?

Dispatcher, Kam: Be prepared and do your research ahead of time. If you know you really want a specific job in a specific branch, look into what made previous individuals in the position successful. Some jobs require extensive conditioning, others are less intensive. While it may be difficult both physically and mentally to prepare, the outcomes will be well worth it. Great things often arise from humble beginnings.

CFI, Mikey: Do not sign up for a position that you don’t want to do. Being a part of the military is challenging no matter your position.  If you choose a job that you do not like it will make it that much more challenging. Make sure you will be doing something that you enjoy and you will love your time in the military. 

CFI, Dan: Take your time with the process, be patient, don’t settle. The military has never been known to make things efficient, so don’t get frustrated, be your own best advocate. Prepare yourself for a rigorous training program. Finally, the military isn’t how Hollywood portrays it. The vast majority of time stateside, you are completing annual training, office tasks, often mundane aspects of the military that make it seem more like a normal job. 

CFII, Greg: I would encourage everyone to research all options available to them. The active duty life of moving every 2.5 - 3 years all while putting your entire lifestyle in the hands of someone else isn’t for everyone. The Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve offer the chance to fly the same types of aircraft as active duty, whether that's tankers or fighters, but offers some more stability on the home front. Lastly I would just make sure that everyone knows military aviation isn’t all airshows and Top Gun. The training is intense and days can be long, some 12+ hour days even while training stateside before deploying. The tactics and procedures are always changing, so there is a constant requirement to keep your nose in the books, and that never changed during my 20 years. The work was hard, but man was it rewarding! I miss it more than I can describe and would trade places in a heartbeat with a new 2Lt if I was able to do it all again!

To our staff, students, and renters who have taken on the duty of protecting our country- CHI thanks you for your service!

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