By Capt. Stan Paregien, 932nd Airlift Wing
/ Published January 17, 2007
SCOTT AIR FORCE BASE, Ill. -- When the country's top military and civilian leaders fly on missions around America and the world, Air Force Reservists are on hand to make sure they receive the best care in the air.
The Reservists are part of a select group of military flight attendants who are members of the 73rd Airlift Squadron, 932nd Airlift Wing, an Air Force Reserve Command unit located at Scott Air Force Base, Ill.
The wing currently flies VIP airlift missions on the C-9C aircraft and will also fly the new C-40C, with the first one slated to arrive at Scott AFB this month.
It takes a special person to make service for high-level passengers -- to include the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the First Lady of the United States, the secretary of State, secretary of the Interior, the CIA director and the speaker of the House, just to name a few -- the top priority at 28,000 feet while also juggling many other duties. Tech Sgt. Tom Otten is one of those special flight attendants.
"I love being a flight attendant because it gives me the opportunity to truly live the motto of service before self," Sergeant Otten said. "Our entire job revolves around putting others first and caring for their needs above our own. The amount of planning, flexibility and hard work that it takes to fly a mission is something that I find very challenging and very rewarding."
When he first began, there is one aspect of the job the sergeant had very little experience with: recipes and meal preparation.
"I had no cooking background," Sergeant Otten said. "However, the Flight Attendant School was able to turn me into a very good cook. I had no prior flying experience, and, therefore, I found all of the aircraft training very interesting.
"The job also has its share of benefits to include a great opportunity to travel both nationally and internationally."
The schooling required of flight attendants involves a lot more than just learning how to cook and is not easy by a long shot. Attendants are trained and tested in many aspects of the flying portion of the mission including conducting a pre-flight inspection, handling in-flight emergencies and evacuating passengers in an emergency landing.
All of the training is centered on customer service, which flight attendants are expected to deliver at all times to the highest degree possible.
"We ensure that those leading and directing our warriors are able to do their jobs," Sergeant Otten said. "If we can get our policy makers where they need to be and have them arrive refreshed and happy, then they will be better equipped to handle their obligations."
As it prepares to receive its first C-40C aircraft, the 73rd AS is looking to add more flight attendants.
"All of the challenges facing our great nation around the world have placed a greater demand for our country's leaders to be present at more places throughout the world," Sergeant Otten said. "The U.S. Air Force ensures that the most powerful people in the world get safely where they need to be."
Training also includes the basic flight attendant course taught at Lackland AFB, Texas; the combat and water survival course taught at Fairchild AFB, Wash.; the enlisted aircrew undergraduate course, which is currently taught at Lackland AFB; and egress simulator training, which is taught by a major airline.
Staff Sgt. April Tarbill grew up in Kent, Wash., and wanted to be a pilot since she was little.
"Unfortunately, I didn't have the eyesight to be one," she said. "I joined the Air Force late because I had no direction in my life back then. I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life or what I wanted to be when I grew up. Joining the military gave me the opportunity to give back to all those who have served before me.
"I went through these flight attendant schools when I was on active duty. EAUC, which usually includes training in the altitude chamber, is a 17-day course that all flyers must attend. This class is an overview of becoming a crew member.
"The basic flight attendant course is a five-week course covering such things as becoming a flyer, how to evacuate the airplane in an emergency, getting to know your emergency equipment on the airplane and, of course, the culinary part, which is the cooking."
The extensive training requirement is one reason military members who want to cross-train into the flight attendant program must have at least a five-level in their current career field. It takes a lot of time to get to the five-level to begin with, so this requirement helps the 73rd AS by ensuring it is hiring people who are already experienced in Air Force business.
Combat survival training teaches flight attendants and other crew members how to survive in the outdoor elements, how to evade the enemy and what to do if they are captured. Water survival class teaches them how to survive if the pilot is forced to ditch the plane in water somewhere.
Egress simulator training shows flight attendants how to evacuate an airplane in different scenarios. It also covers ditching procedures.
All the training adds up to produce well-rounded, professional flight attendants.
"The hardest part so far about being a flight attendant is the hours," Sergeant Tarbill said. "It is not necessarily the hours that you have to work, like long flight hours, but the actual hour of the day that you have to get up and prepare for a flight.
"I've had many flights where I have to get up at midnight so I can travel and be at the airplane two hours prior to a 4 a.m. takeoff time. Trying to go to bed early enough to sleep long enough for a long flight is hard on the body, and with all the time changing you do, I can't say it is easy. It is just an adjustment you get used to.
"There is a lot that goes into just the prep work before the mission even leaves the ground. But if you are willing to do the work, this is the job for you."
Col. Maryanne Miller, 932nd AW commander, said that despite all of the demands and training requirements, she understands why Reservists choose to become flight attendants.
"It's an exciting time in our wing's history," Colonel Miller said. "We represent the only wing in Air Force Reserve Command that provides executive airlift support for our nation's senior leaders. Supporting our nation with superior service is a mission we understand and enjoy doing."
Colonel Miller has more than 4,400 flying hours in a variety of Air Force aircraft, including the C-141, C-5 and C-9C.
"From our maintainers to our pilots and flight attendants, I can truly say we have engaged this mission with the customer in mind," she said. "I have dedicated professionals doing this mission day to day, and I am extremely proud of their service and commitment."
The colonel pointed out that the 932nd AW has worked closely with the regular Air Force's 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews AFB, Md., to ensure synergy of resources and smart operations while standing up this new mission.
"In addition, the 201st AS at Andrews has been integral in assisting with our pilot currency until our new C-40C aircraft arrives," she said. "It is truly an integrated operational approach to operational support airlift and our distinguished visitor mission."
Lt. Col. Barry Rutledge, director of operations for the 73rd AS, is proud of the men and women who cater to the needs of a wide range of people on the flights.
"The job these flight attendants do is incredible," Colonel Rutledge said. "They perform at an outstanding level, not just for one flight of one mission, but on every leg of every mission. That level of service and dedication is unparalleled in my opinion. I stand in awe of these folks. We need more of these dedicated professionals in order to continue to grow this outstanding flight attendant section to enable it to meet its tasking."
One of the squadron's newest flight attendants is Staff Sgt. Danielle "Dani" Long, who was previously an air reserve technician at the 419th Communications Squadron, Hill AFB, Utah. One day in Utah, she and a co-worker were discussing their future plans.
"I told my friend I had always worked for other people who got to see the world, and I wanted to do the same and be a flight attendant," Sergeant Long said. "The very next day, I got an electronic mail message about it, and I sent my package and was accepted."
She sold almost all her belongings, hopped in her car and headed east on the highway from Utah to Illinois.
"Now, I'm part of the 932nd Airlift Wing," the sergeant said. "Not only do we share the same passion for serving the passengers, but while most people are watching the Travel Channel, we are out there living it."
The 932nd continues to recruit and fill flight attendant slots. Anyone interested in applying must qualify for a top-secret security clearance, be available to fly a 10-day trip every three months and be within the Air Force fit-to-fight standards.
Applicants must also pass a board interview process and meet flight physical requirements as a flying crew member. Information is available by calling 618-229-7173 or toll free 800-257-1212.