Tale of Two Jobs: Teacher? Ejection Seat Technician? Both Hats Fit Michigan Airman

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
What does teaching special education in middle school and fixing ejection seats loaded with explosives have in common? Maybe more than you would think, says a man who does both.

"The military teaches patience and attention to detail," said Staff Sgt. Jared Kowalski, an egress technician with the 127th Maintenance Squadron at Selfridge Air National Guard Base.

In his classroom, it is patience that makes Kowalski such a strong educator, said Sharon Remillard, a paraprofessional who works alongside Kowalski.

"He has the time and the patience to not only work with the kids in his class, but to be supportive to all our kids," Remillard said.

Kowalski's full-time job is teaching math to cognitively impaired students in a special education program at Clawson Middle School in Clawson, Mich. One weekend a month, he puts on a uniform and serves as a member of the Michigan Air National Guard at Selfridge. For many Citizen-Airmen in the Air National Guard, the job they do in uniform is similar to their pursuits in the civilian world. There are, for example, plenty of local police officers who also serve in the 127th Security Forces Squadron and nurses and other medical technicians who serve as part of the 127th Medical Group.

"Being in the Air Force helped me get my start," said Senior Master Sgt. Tim Horvath, a member of the Michigan Air National Guard and a police officer for the suburban Detroit community of Westland. "I think it helps a lot of young people get their start, no matter what career they choose."

Horvath began his military career as a medic about 25 years ago. He used that experience to help land a job as a city paramedic, a job he worked in for about a dozen years, before deciding to move into police work in 1999. He remained in the medical field for another decade in the Air National Guard, before taking on a leadership role as the first sergeant for the 127th Civil Engineer Squadron at Selfridge.

"The leadership skills I learned in the military have a direct relationship to what I do in law enforcement," Horvath said.

Horvath, Kowalski and others at Selfridge are eagerly awaiting for news from Washington D.C. about the potential future of their military careers. According to an Air Force proposal, the A-10 squadron at Selfridge is to be eliminated, with no replacement aircraft. Such a move is expected to eliminate about 400 part-time and 200 full-time positions at Selfridge. Congress is considering that proposal, along with various counter proposals being put forward by Selfridge supporters.

The next step in that process is a review of the military fiscal year 2013 budget proposal by the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, which is chaired by U.S. Sen. Carl Levin, D-Mich. The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, March 20.

"I want to continue to serve," said Horvath. "But more important than just what I want for myself, I want the opportunities to continue to exist for our younger Airmen who have served just a few years and are just beginning their military career. Keeping those opportunities open for young people in this region, I think that benefits the whole community. So many people learn and grow from their experiences in the National Guard, I would just hate to see fewer of those opportunities in the future."

No exact statistics are kept, at least locally, but Guard leaders at Selfridge say it is fairly common for younger members of the Air National Guard to use their military skills - coupled with college benefits - as a springboard for their civilian careers.

"The converse to that is also true," said Col. Philip Sheridan, vice commander of the 127th Wing at Selfridge. "So many times in the Guard, we benefit from the skills people bring from their civilian job with them either to drill weekend or to a deployment."

Sheridan said he's lost track of how many young people he's known over his nearly 30-year career as a military officer who have used the military as the means to begin a successful career.

Few of those civilian careers, however, have probably been as different from their military career as is Kowalski's, the special education teacher. But for him, the two divergent careers just made sense.

He first enlisted in the Air National Guard in 2004 while he was still a college student. Other family members had served in various branches of the military in the past and he felt a call to do the same. And, he says, "a little help with paying for college didn't hurt."

A similar feeling of a call to service led him to want to work as a special education teacher. After graduating from college, he was hired by the Clawson school district and began working as a teacher.

"I really enjoy working with my students," Kowalski said. "It is a population that I think a lot of people forget about, but I just have a heart for these kids."

On the base, Kowalski generally serves one weekend a month, a couple of weeks in the summer and then is on call for potential extended duty, based on the needs of the Air Force.

The egress section of the 127th Maintenance Squadron is a relatively small shop of about a half-dozen Airmen. They are charged with maintaining the ACES-II ejection seats that are used in the A-10 Thunderbolt II aircraft flown by the 107th Fighter Squadron at Selfridge. The same type of seat, with minor modifications, is found in most of the Air Force's high-performance aircraft. The seat is equipped with an explosive charge that can propel a pilot out of a damaged or otherwise failing aircraft.

"Our shop motto is 'guaranteed for one-time use,'" said Technical Sgt. Eric Coss, the section supervisor. "The system we work on is the one thing that, after everything else has failed on the aircraft, this is the thing that cannot fail."

Being a relatively small group, all the Airmen in the egress shop need to be able to get along well, Coss and others said.

"Jared is a good part of our team," said Staff Sgt. Nathan Henkel. "He brings a positive attitude, a positive light to the shop."

Staff Sgt. Fran Dixon is another Citizen-Airman who works in two unrelated careers. In uniform, she is an electrician. In her full-time civilian career, she works for American Express and helps to coordinate travel needs for various Fortune 500 companies.

"No, there's not much overlap between being an electrician and a travel agent," she laughed.

Still, she said, her Guard job has served her well.

"Working around the house, I never would have known how to take care of things the way that I have over the years, had it not been for what I learned in the military along the way," she said.

"But it's not just that. I'm proud to wear the uniform and to do my small part to serve our country," she said.

With changes pending to the A-10 aircraft operations at Selfridge, Kowalski and other Airmen who work directly on that that aircraft and its systems are anxious to learn how they will be impacted by the proposed reduction in personnel.

"I'm a very goal-orientated person," Kowalski said. "One of my goals is to serve 20 years in the Air National Guard if I can. I enjoy the camaraderie of the people I work with and I take pride, our whole shop takes pride in working around the jet, being part of the team."

"The Air Force has taught me things and puts focus on values like 'Excellence In All We Do,' that I try to pass on to my students," he said. "I would like to continue to be a part of that."