Sergeant combines love of music, military

  • Published
  • By TSgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
Meet Staff Sgt. Alissa Hannah. She loves tankers, the viola and her Marine Corps husband.

Hannah is a command post operator with the 127th Wing at Selfridge Air National Guard Base. She's also an accomplished viola player and has recently been sharing her musical skills with the 127th Wing, playing the Star Spangled Banner at several retirement ceremonies. A member of a military family - her father and brother both serve in the Montana Air National Guard's 120th Fighter Wing - she recently started a military family of her own, marrying Marine Sgt. Spencer Besancon in June 2013.

"There's something about the viola that tugs at my heartstrings," Hannah said.

It was her talent with the viola that actually brought the Montana native to the Michigan Air National Guard, even though her job in the command post has absolutely nothing to do with music.

She started playing the violin at age 10 - her parents were disinclined to purchase the budding musician a drum set - and stayed with the instrument through her sophomore year at the University of Montana. That's when she shifted to the viola and eventually earned a bachelor's degree in musical performance. During her college years, she gave lessons, played with a number of orchestra groups in Montana and played at weddings and other events. After she finished up her degree, she was exploring her musical options and took an internship with a music company in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Along the way, she was also serving as a traditional member of the Montana ANG, working in the command post for the 120th FW, which flies F-16 Fighting Falcons. Hannah said she found the radical difference between her life as a student and musician and her life as an ANG command post controller a good mix for her.

"It was good to have something different, away from the music that I could focus on sometimes," she said.

About the time her initial enlistment with the ANG was nearing an end, she moved to Michigan to take the music internship in Ann Arbor. She wanted to continue to serve in the ANG and looked up the wings in the Great Lakes region. Initially, she said, she thought the 127th Wing, which formerly flew F-16s, was still operating the aircraft.

"I figured, I'd show up and it would be easy to slide right in to another fighter unit," she said.

Upon arrival at Selfridge about two years ago, however, she discovered that the Michigan wing was flying KC-135 Stratotankers and A-10 Thunderbolt IIs. The F-16s had left a couple years previous.

"Time to learn something new," she said of the time.

"SSgt. Hannah jumped in with both feet and starting helping with things from the first day," said Senior Master Sgt. Christine Koch, one of Hannah's supervisors in the command post. "She's been an awesome asset."

"The tanker mission is an interesting one," she said. "I enjoy working with our people on the flying mission - even though most of them I never see their faces, it's all over the phone and radio."

About the time Hannah arrived in Michigan, the 127th Wing had an opening for a full-time controller and Hannah began working on active duty at Selfridge.

"I describe working in the command post as 90 percent downtime and 10 percent off the chart," she said. "You just never know when it is going to get extremely busy in a very short amount of time."

Given the shift-work nature of her duties in the command post, Hannah's musical activities were scaled back considerably, though she still finds time to take lessons from a violist with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra and to give lessons to a few younger players.

Meanwhile, another command post operator, Technical Sgt. Chris Golema, who is active on the 127th Wing Activities Committee, which supports retirement ceremonies and other events, began suggesting his talented colleague play for those events.

"It is something different than a singer and her talent just blows people away," he said.

Unfortunately for the 127th Wing, Hannah likely will not be playing at many more ceremonies at Selfridge. Her husband is scheduled to make a permanent duty station change in the next few months and Hannah plans to look for a new ANG or Air Force Reserve unit to serve with.

"I'm fortunate to have two professions that I really love," she said. "I want to continue to work at both of them."