MindForce: Mental Fitness & Career Stories!

Navigating the Skies: Unmasking the Demanding World Of Air Traffic Control with Scott Formiller

January 03, 2024 Nathaniel Scheer Season 1 Episode 12
MindForce: Mental Fitness & Career Stories!
Navigating the Skies: Unmasking the Demanding World Of Air Traffic Control with Scott Formiller
Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Imagine being the one calling the shots in a high-stakes, fast-paced environment of air traffic control. This fascinating episode of MindForce unravels the demanding world of air traffic control through the eyes of Scott, a 1C1,  Air Traffic Controller, stationed at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa. Join us as we delve into Scott's career trajectory, shaped by his grandfather's influence amid lots of laughter and Nate's hilarious anecdote of almost flunking the depth perception test at MEPS. From his favorite apps to his top reads, we get a glimpse of the man behind the controller, his approach to mental fitness, and his resilience in a challenging profession.

We then set our sights on the world of controlling, navigating through the humorous, the intense, and the rewarding. Hear Scott's take on the job's satisfaction, as he talks about the fulfillment of successfully steering through chaotic situations, the camaraderie, and the pride of supporting crucial missions. We debunk common misconceptions about the role as we stress adaptability, quick thinking, and the importance of rotating controllers to balance the demanding work. 

Finally, we steer the conversation towards the often neglected topic of mental health within the ATC career field. We confront the stigma, explore the fears associated with seeking help, and shed light on the challenges of night shifts and constantly changing sleep patterns. Yet, it's not all demanding; Nate shares some perks of the job, like being able to visit the DMV on a less crowded weekday. Throughout this episode, we unmask the demanding yet rewarding world of air traffic control and emphasize the need for ongoing mental health support. Join us on this fascinating journey through the skies and beyond.

Scheerious Positivity!

Nate Scheer:

Hello everyone and welcome to Mind Matters, where, if it's on your mind, it matters the podcast for love, life and learning. I'm your host, Nate Scheer, and today we have Scott. Introduce yourself, Scott.

Scott:

Hi, I'm Scott. I'm an air traffic controller stationed out here atadena Kadena Air Base on Okinawa.

Nate Scheer:

Awesome. I'm super excited today. This is the first time, first and only time, I've been able to interview someone from a previous career field. I had so super excited to talk to somebody about something I actually know somewhat about, which will be super exciting. So we're going to start off with a quick three part question to get this rolling, get us to understand you a little bit better in a short amount of time. So first part of the question is what's one app you are using?

Scott:

I am using the Libby app. I just started using it. When I got out here, I was using Audible and it kind of is really limiting my number of books I was able to read and I found out that it's free, and so I've been using that all the time now.

Nate Scheer:

Oh, you can't beat it. Which library do you have Do?

Scott:

you have your own library, no, the DoD library. Oh nice.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, sometimes if it's out at your regional library or whatnot, you can bounce back and forth. My wife does a lot of reading and so she'll kind of bounce libraries to get the one that she wants.

Scott:

Yes, I have one from back home, but the audiobook selection, which is what I usually like, isn't as dense as a DoD library, so I've been using that one quite a bit.

Nate Scheer:

That's awesome. Second part, a book you recommend oh man.

Scott:

there's so many Kind of old news, but I just read it recently, outliers by Malcolm Gladwell. I absolutely love it. I'm not even going to try to explain it because I'll butcher it, but I just really enjoy his take on what makes people successful and I found it fascinating.

Nate Scheer:

Nice. I've never read it. What was the biggest takeaway?

Scott:

Oh man, there's a lot of his take and it's something he kind of maybe pushed me towards that. We have this idea that success, especially in the United States or here in our country that we're used to, is like, oh, he just worked hard or she just worked hard and got with that. Yes, that's a huge part of it, but there's so many other little things just circumstance, timing, whatever it may be that go into success. I thought it was really cool.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, it's really interesting. I think now lately, with social media and things like that, we see the end result of success, but sometimes you don't see the 48 tries before the 49th, Things like that. So it is kind of that's a good point to keep in mind. There's so many things that go into success. And the last part of the question is what are you listening to?

Scott:

I'm listening to the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William R Shire I think his name is but it's a long one. It's a long one. It's kind of pretty bland, but oh, it's all right, I'm just getting through it at this point.

Nate Scheer:

What's your take away from that one?

Scott:

I mean it's like a thousand in some pages long, so I'm not very far into it yet. Hitler's a bad guy.

Nate Scheer:

That's a good take away. Okay, I'll move into the heart of the show, the AFSC portion. So what's your AFSC and what's the official title?

Scott:

One Charlie, One Air Traffic Controller.

Nate Scheer:

Nice. How did you find or become interested in the field?

Scott:

So my grandfather was an air traffic controller for a very long time and then when I decided I was going to join the Air Force, he kind of my dad was also. He's kind of many men in my family have been in the Air Force. So my father was. He was a maintainer. My grandfather was a air traffic controller and so he told me to do that. So I did it. Nice, so glad.

Nate Scheer:

That's awesome. Yeah, I have a funny story. I went to MEPS. I wanted to come in guaranteed air traffic and I was moving through the process. Everything was going good and then I did the depth perception and the lady looked at me, looked back at the sheet and looked at me and she's like she failed miserably. I was like, really, you know, I drive, I do certain activities. I didn't think I didn't have depth perception so I was like, does that make sense? And then she paused, looked back at the thing. She said oh, wrong score sheet. You're fine.

Scott:

Oh my goodness.

Nate Scheer:

So this lady, with one, you know one fell swoop could have just like destroyed my life.

Scott:

And that that got a lot of people. It's not even a thing anymore, actually fair traffic. I went within the last however many years that's changed. I've heard that story a lot. That's happened to a lot of people, almost happened to you.

Nate Scheer:

I did not know that they actually got rid of it. Yep, well, that's good. I'm glad they moved on with that, so move in to learn a little bit more about you. So who are you? Tell us as little, as much as you want.

Scott:

Oh man, not a big titles guy, but if you want to do that, I'm a father, I'm a three year old and a one year old, and then outside of that I am just kind of along for the ride. I don't know, I'm not good with titles, but I have a handful of hobbies. I like spending time doing those things as much as possible. I love my job. It was hard for me to really attach a title to it. I think it's kind of weird to say To me saying I am a hunter, I'm a whatever title. It just makes me weird.

Nate Scheer:

It makes me feel weird. So many activities out there that makes sense. Can you give us an overview of your career field? Not the Google version.

Scott:

Oh man. So if you want to look at air traffic, imagine many people listening to this have been on a plane at some point. So we kind of, as air traffic controllers, help, safely, orderly and expeditiously kind of get you from point A to point B All the way. From when they're filing the flight plans. We relay those to you in between facilities and then taxi you from your parking spot all the way out to the runway Ready for takeoff, and then, as you move through the air, you're talking to different controllers all the way to your destination.

Nate Scheer:

Can you walk us through some of the different types of jobs and positions that fall within air traffic?

Scott:

Oh man, there's a lot. So there's two sides of air traffic, so it's the same AFSC, but they're kind of two branches of the same tree really. You've got the radar portion and the tower portion. So within a tower you generally have a ground control position which is talking to all your vehicles, your aircraft, your vehicles taxiing around the air, driving around the airport, excuse me, your airplanes, going to and from the runway to their parking, and then you have a local controller position and they're talking to the planes in the air and then meet at the vicinity of the airport and then down in the radar. There's a lot in the radar. So basically it's just different sectors of airspace, there's different controllers within there that have different responsibilities, and then the person in charge of each one of those rooms, whether it's up in a tower cab or in a wrap con in the down the radar is called a watch supervisor and they're in charge the whole. You know they're listening to multiple frequencies, positions, kind of making sure everything runs smoothly.

Nate Scheer:

That's awesome. So I have this question on the script, so since you brought it up, I'll jump to it. Have you been a watch supervisor?

Scott:

I haven't, yep. I've been a watch supervisor since about 2013. Awesome.

Nate Scheer:

So I have to ask the question what's it like having voices in your head?

Scott:

Oh yeah, it's a lot. It's a lot sometimes you, my wife has told me especially you get very good, or I have gotten pretty good at kind of selective hearing. I'm going to be able to tune things out and you know, with multiple people, agencies, whatever, talking at the same time, it's very interesting how little, just little snippets of words or sounds you can kind of key in on and the inverse that you know, tune out a little bit and that's it's got me in trouble, but it's it's good, that makes sense.

Nate Scheer:

I remember from tech school one of the things they tried to encourage us to do was to try to have a phone conversation with like family members and then try and watch TV and try to see if you could keep up with the TV show and also keep up with the conversation with your family, so it's a good skill. I think I don't know the selective you know, listening out or selective hearing portion, but it's definitely good to be able to keep track of all that.

Scott:

Two sides to everything right.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, exactly Two sides. So I'd like to ask you what's one personal lesson you've learned that you think everyone should learn in life.

Scott:

In life. All right, big right, yes, good, I like it. I like that struggle, like introducing struggle and or discipline, however you want to phrase it doing hard things this isn't my idea. I'm just regurgitating things that I've heard but then I've implemented and worked for me. But doing hard things intentionally, like on your own, makes things that hard things that happen to you, that are more or less out of your control, makes them, in my experience, infinitely more tolerable. Yeah, yeah, I think that's definitely true.

Nate Scheer:

It's interesting. The military we love this reference of, like the rubber band, resiliency and all these buzzwords and bouncing back, but I don't think we do a good job of explaining, like, what we mean by bouncing back. We don't talk about pushing through the difficult times, so the next time you see it you're more likely to deal with it.

Scott:

Yes, and even if it's and it doesn't have to be the same thing, but it can be a simple for me it's exercise. I'm a bit like I just love, you know, physically hard things, but the thing that makes most of the things that I do that are you would classify as physically hard is actually the mental side of it. A lot of times I do things I don't want to do. I'll tell myself a night before all right, here's what I'm going to do tomorrow. I'm all excited about it. Wake up, actually go to do it and I regret it. I don't want to do it, I don't want to do some portion of whatever may be. But when I do that, I get through that. I'm not getting through a physical thing, I'm getting through a me telling myself you have to do this, you will do this, and the things that I find that I care about or that may bother me or give me you know issues beforehand and then after I do that are infinitely different and smaller, like the things that would bother me if I'm not able to do that. If I push myself through, you know, whatever it may be, whatever challenge, and I push myself through, that you know things that would otherwise bother me don't. And then also you just build that resilience that you talk about, like, oh, I can do this, like this is hard, but this will end if I just keep going here and it, you know it's helped me a lot.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, I think it's one thing. It's difficult again going back to, like, the social media aspects of things. We see the pictures of the family vacations and all the good stuff. There's so much more that's going on behind the scenes, and so one of the aims of this podcast is clearing the stigma with mental health, and that's why we're calling it mental fitness here, something that you're actively working on. The same way you go to the gym and get reps in, you should be finding ways to exercise your brain and meditate or yoga or you know whatever form or fashion that is. So we'll continue to have conversations about mental fitness and ways that you can get through things, and so I'm glad you brought that up. I think that's a really good way to address that and understand that, because you have to get through the hard stuff so you can look back and realize you accomplished something. We want to, for some reason, feel like, oh, I want life to be easy, you want life to be sort of difficult so that it could be easier.

Scott:

Yes, and if you look, I mean generally a large number, a large percentage of my fond memories that I have of things I've found are like things that were actually horrible in the time. Like it was whatever it may be, it was a hike to the top of some beautiful peak, whatever it may be, it was a whatever I like to hunt. So I've been on some hard hunting today. Rain for four days, I was sitting in a tent but things like that. But looking like, yes, those four days in that tent were horrible and miserable by the end of it I look back like man, that was awesome, it was just. You know that struggles. It's good for you, I think in many ways.

Nate Scheer:

I think the perfect example is the deployment. You hear, oh, we had to do this, maybe Porta Pades did to do this. And an end of the story of all these things that sound terrible.

Scott:

They're like it was awesome.

Nate Scheer:

It was awesome, yeah, like wait you just told me, like Ted, things that were not awesome, the opposite of awesome, but the stories and the camaraderie and whatnot I think are super important. That's a great example. We'll move on to the next question. This one might be difficult. I throw it in here. It is kind of a difficult question, but how do you describe a typical day or week in your job and what are some of the main responsibilities and challenges you face?

Scott:

So do you want my job specifically or as an air traffic controller in general?

Nate Scheer:

I'd like to hear about being on crew. Okay, great yeah great.

Scott:

So as an air traffic controller, generally many facilities within the Air Force and just nationwide really are 24 seven, so a lot of people working rotating schedule. So you'll go in, you know you're assigned time, kind of roll in generally as a, as a crew, they call it, like you said. You'll roll in with the guys you're working with on that shift and then you'll get briefed in and then you'll plug into whatever position it may be and then you're just you're working, right and so, and you'll rotate through the positions throughout the day. Generally speaking, you have a good idea of like when it's going to be busy, when it's going to slow down. So you know you talked about watch supervisor. They'll kind of coordinate with you know getting you in and out of position to accomplish, you know behind the scenes type stuff. But you're just you're in a. You're either in your radar, you know in your radar room, or you're up in the tower. You're doing that. Some challenges, I mean no different than any other job, right, it depends on you know what's going on, you know whether it's manning or the weather, just other stuff, whatever it may be. But just it's really as an air traffic controller if there's no planes flying around like you got nothing to do. So it's pretty easy, right. But once you know as things start to happen and it can happen, you know kind of very short notes and a quick amount of time. It can go from nothing to kind of your hair on fire a little bit.

Nate Scheer:

So yeah, it's interesting you bring that up because I hear the question. A lot is like oh, isn't that so stressful? I'm like, most of the time, clear to land, clear to take off, pretty straightforward. But when you have, you know, someone hit a bird and they have to come down and then the person behind them is the medical emergency and then the t 38 that you squeezed in in front of them pops a tire, and then you know it all happens. And then somehow you know you're trying to come off your mid shifts, you want to go home, and then the street sweeper catches on fire and you got to ring out the crash.

Scott:

So you're like how did all that happen?

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, so what do you say about the questions? Like, isn't that stressful so?

Scott:

my, that's same thing. That's what I hear. First thing, I was here. Air travel oh, isn't that stressful? Yes, my tour to that is always. You know, flippin burgers and McDonald's is stressful If you don't know what's going on. Right, and I can say that I worked in McDonald's. I thought I was very stressful but at the same time I actually I love that part of the job. That is my favorite part of it. When it is just, you know, controlled chaos to a degree. You know there's planes everywhere, whatever, I just I really absolutely love it. I'm very lucky in that regard that when there are, you know situations you talked about planes, emergencies just general chaos on and off the airfield is just I love it, I love it.

Nate Scheer:

That's awesome. It works for you. So, speaking of shifts, are you four and two here, or six and three, or what's your breakdown?

Scott:

Our man is kind of crazy. So generally it's, we try to do four and two, but it's kind of a month to month type thing. We're kind of playing catch up, still from COVID, unfortunately, because they like paused a lot of guys in training. So we're kind of we're paying for that. Right now we try to do four and twos, but a lot of the time, you know, sometimes it's six and twos, unfortunately.

Nate Scheer:

But could you tell us a story about when something went from boring to crazy and maybe back?

Scott:

Oh man, there's so many and I would to this, I Would almost get to into the wheat, like to try to describe it. I think I get to in the weeds in there traffic. I can say kind of a funny story that I like to tell. There was a, there was a. So you mentioned t38 earlier. So I was like my joke, like I've seen t38's make a kid quit. So there was a time you can't really do anymore but used to be able to do a thing called fear of controlling I don't know if that's a thing when you were doing it, I think so where you can just kind of like hey, like I, just For you know, for all the right reasons, like saying being a pilot, I don't want to fly this plane, like okay, you don't have to be a pilot, we're not gonna make you fly, you can do the same with controlling. So anyway, but kid was in there, he was in training, he was in the local control position, so he's talking to the planes in the air, kind of in the immediate vicinity of the of the airport, which is generally the most complex position in a tower. So anyway, he's in there, he's in training, he's kind of having a rough time. His trainer was kind of, you know, getting on a little bit and I could see that he was not doing so well. So I told the trainer to kind of lay off a little bit, take it easy. So, anyway, we're going through. It's kind of slowed down, it's very easy, whatever and I was at Little Rock at the time which is just all C-130s, right, so they're very slow. There's kind of cruising around. Anyway, some t38s come down final and and as a joke, I wasn't trying to jive, I wasn't trying to like poke the guy or anything I just say, hey, man, they're doing 350 knots, what are you gonna do? And he just takes off his headset. I can't do this anymore. This isn't the job for me.

Nate Scheer:

I'm done and, like you know, unplugged and Whatever.

Scott:

The rest is history. Obviously he's not doing this anymore. So that's my, I would say, that kind of escalate quickly Life comes at you.

Nate Scheer:

That's interesting, so we'll go to a more positive note. Or what are some of the things of the job you'd like to highlight?

Scott:

Man, it's for me again, take it with a grain of salt, because I absolutely love it. I think it's what I was made to do, like I'm just very lucky that I found it. But I think Controlling the chaos and the constant, you know, if you're at somewhere where they're, you know like a cadena, like some other places in the Air Force, where it is very busy, it is very dynamic, is very fluid, it is, you are constantly and consistently having to just think on your feet, adapt and just there's no. A plus B does not equal C. I guess that is not. What is there? A general, you know the Principles are few but the methods are many. There's a million ways to get from a to see some are better than others, right. But just kind of controlling that chaos with just there's an infinite number of, you know, an infinite number of factors that are gonna change second to second how you have to respond and React to any given situation. I love that part of it.

Nate Scheer:

I love how you said that you were made for it. It's a match, because one question I've heard is like, am I smart enough to do it? And I think it's a weird correlation between like intelligence and the career field. You either like understand it or you don't. You know how the public comes together, how the you know Spatial things work and what the separation is and things like that, or you don't. So some people like I can't do it. I'm not, you know, intelligent enough or whatnot, but I mean there's some that are super smart, some that may not be as much, but they just understand yes, and I've I've had that kind of we've had that conversation as controllers a lot.

Scott:

I don't think it's an intelligence thing at all. I think it's just how does your brain work. Like, a lot of the people who have not made it in the career field are some of these smartest people that I've come across ever. They can quote every reg, do it. But, like I was talking earlier, just that dynamic, constantly changing, fluid situation applying said rules that you can quote off the top of your head. It's just a completely different game and you know some people, there Is not an intelligence thing. I think it's how you brand work. See, I'm not smart At all at all, I promise.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, it's interesting. So the people I've known that are more of the bookworm. I feel like we're not as able to apply it as much. It seems like almost counterintuitive to what you think, like you know all the rules you could apply it, but yes it doesn't seem to play out very often. Next question what do you think is the most rewarding aspect of your career field?

Scott:

So For me it's just when it is, you know, like we talked we've talked about a few times and just kind of that chaos, that controlled chaos, just coming out the other side of that like and it is just the you almost get a high from it. There's a few times like it happened 26, the kid got rated, so like we it was crazy, like it was one of the, it was very crazy, it was nuts and it kind of you know happened, we went through it, you know, and then they all kind of landed it, calmed down and everybody's kind of like looked around like Whoa and just kind of like, but just we're all, like you know, like a hot I don't even know how straight you just kind of have like a high, like holy cow. We just did that. Like we did it, like we're all fist bumping each other like it was super lame, but it was. It was just a just that like getting through that, like that was awesome. And at that point when it because when it is that busy no one person can just you cannot maintain situation awareness of all that at one time. So everybody's in there working together to help each other out, people who should have nothing to do with her over there Doing every little thing they can to help, and it's just, it's really cool that coming out the other side of that together. And I just love it. And, like you know, I've also been lucky enough to be at some bases that have some, like you know, kind of directs, like missions that are very like you can see the results of or you kind of find out what's going on. It's very cool. So I also like that too. I like that portion of it, so kind of an air force the answer. But I really do enjoy, like you know, what we're kind of finding out, like what you're supporting. You realize like, oh, all these jets are out doing this or what it may be, and like what you're able to kind of directly like facilitate in many ways Is cool to me.

Nate Scheer:

That's interesting. Yeah, there's something I wanted to ask. It actually is coming up, but I'll move it up. It's interesting. You mentioned the high, and so there was something I remember when people would work a difficult Position, usually on the day they were getting rated, we would find that right after they got rated they would completely like zone out, so we try and rip them out of position, have you?

Scott:

oh, absolutely, we did that with that kid like you know you kind of so the way it works in our traffic, right for the audiences. Until you are fully certified, right, you go to the tech school, you get to your facility, you start training, you go through the, you know the, all the positions, but until you are checked out in the entire facility, you can't work by yourself. So you're always, you know, you have a little headset, little microphone, right and you plug in, there is always a certified person plugging in with you right next to you that has the ability to over key you at any time. So, anyway, so when you do get certified, like you were talking about, you finally get facility certified. You know, kind of the big thing is they like pull, you know they pull themselves out and you're plugged in by yourself for the first time. It's a cool thing. But that last, you know that lasts for all about 10 seconds. All right, dude, you can take a break, right, because it is like that it is. Like I stated earlier, it's very, especially those busy things like yes, we have a high, but it's also mentally Taxing. Just it's hard to. It really is like you're on a high but then you, it's just hard to constrain me, I don't really how to explain it. We called it at some basis like that Period after a very busy period go like a dangerously slow, because it's just there's not enough going on where you can you really need to pay attention and then you just mentally kind of drained anyway so you can't. It's harder for you to pay attention and oftentimes like that's when, like Stuff, that wouldn't happen otherwise. So you're right, we try to get people Out of there after you know real busy. That's interesting.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, like jumping rope super fast or something, and then once the rope slows down, you probably just get hit in the shins, or something, yeah right, yeah, yeah yeah. I was used to going fast.

Scott:

Yeah.

Nate Scheer:

I'm not used to it going slow, exactly that's interesting, so we'll move over to more of the less desirable. So what are some of the aspects that are?

Scott:

I think you touched on a few of them, but if we could round out a few of them more so, people are thinking about Cross-training or coming into the career feel better, things that are a little harder to deal with so we have, luckily, I will say I like, I said I love my job, so there are very this will be a heart, there's gonna be a stretch for me anyway, but, um, like we have crew rest, like it's very forgiving, so we're very limited on the number of hours we can work. However, that being said, we are, generally speaking, most facilities are 24 7, so you're gonna be working a lot of overnight, so a lot of weekends, a lot of holidays, potentially things like that. So that's something to get used to. It's. It's very like training intensive, especially initially right, the tech school, and then the initial upgrade or, excuse me, qualification training. There's a lot of that. But then every time you pcs, you know, if you can imagine the different, you know every different air force base you've been to is completely different. Right, the, the roads are different, the country is different, that everything's different about. Well, it's no different about every airfield you go to, the runways are different, the planes are different, the, just everything's different. So you go back into training. So, um, it's obviously abbreviated right, because you have experience and generally doesn't, it won't take as long, but it it's not heard of, it happened here recently like where you can be an air traffic controller for 6, 8, 10 years and you go somewhere and you just Maybe it's, maybe you just kind of bounce around slower bases, or you were only in radars, and now you go to a tower and it's just completely different and you know, unfortunately, like it's just, you know, you, just you're not it's, it's hard. So, um, there's that stressor of it. Potentially, you know, base to base, it can be, at least for a little bit, like going through training that nobody likes going through training, so that can be a little stressful.

Nate Scheer:

So one thing we didn't touch on in opportunities is, uh, some of that training. So could you touch on being dual rated and kind of how that works?

Scott:

So yes, like I talked about the two branches, the same tree type deal earlier, um, but only one wops test. All right, yeah, that's it, it's hard.

Nate Scheer:

So yeah.

Scott:

So there's tower right, which everybody you see at all the airports of tower right and they're responsible for the airport. You know the ground guys moving around the ground and then all the airplanes in the immediate vicinity, so you can imagine they're in a tower, they've got these big windows. You know you're up there looking down or around at everything, so it's very visual oriented. And then you go down to a radar and the rules are completely different too, like it's just can this plane see that plane? Can I see this plane? It's a lot of that right. But then you go down into a radar environment. Everybody's seeing the radar scope, little green dots, whatever, with a little, and that's how you're controlling. So you're going from a 3d environment, you're looking now to a more or less video game and you have to kind of Work it that way. And there's, it's just, it's the same thing but it's not right. Same career field, but it's, it's completely different. And so for a long time, um, it was kind of you got siloed into one of the other, your tower and you're. You know, generally speaking, you would more often than not, or Very often, you would be just tower for your entire career, maybe a wrap on somewhere. But or same thing, radar, right, because of like I talked about the training intensity Go there, since they're so different. You know you don't want to as an air force, you don't want to send this person somewhere and now it takes them as a Tech sergeant. It takes this person eight months a year to get qualified. So they were just kind of keeping people Kind of in their lane right. But there's been a push within the last few years to really kind of For career broadening. I think it's good, right it's. It's challenging at times for a lot of people it's don't grasp it very well or it takes a little bit longer. It's kind of hard on the front end, but I think it's good for their career. So we're getting a lot more people dual rated. I was lucky enough to do it a few years ago, so it's, I like tower better. That's where I grew up, that's my game, but I do like having done that. I was like this is great, like it's cool, it's really just as a Just career broadening. Like you're, you have the entire picture. You're able to see so much more, understand so much more and just effectively Do your job. It's just it's. It's a good push. I like it.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, that promotion test going from a visual physical separation to like time is it's impossible.

Scott:

Yeah if you don't know, yeah, if you're, it's. It's unfortunate if you're in like a tower and we can get deep into it when you're tower.

Nate Scheer:

More of the questions are radar.

Scott:

Yes, yes and that's what I felt like and that's the thing. So for those of you guys listening, yes, it's the same career field, it's the same few giant regulations. But if you're a tower, you're really only reading chunks of that that apply to you, and if you're a radar, you're only reading the other chunks that apply to you, and there's a little bit of crossover here and there. But so you go into Wops and it's like it's tough, and then you always got to have like Air Force One fly in or something. That never happens. Yes, yes, yeah, that was always a challenge.

Nate Scheer:

That's funny. I wanted to go back and touch on a couple more less desirable things. You do love it, but I'd love to hear your take on like being DaNiC. So in most career fields you can take cough medicine or you know something when you're not feeling well. So I should have defined DaNiC. I think duty is not to include controlling, but can you touch on? You know kind of how that's difficult.

Scott:

Yeah, so if you go DaNiC, there's a number of things that can, danic. You excuse me, you talked about a few of them, but it just means you cannot control until you're seen by the flight doc and they clear you. And so there's a handful of things, some common ones, like you talked about taking a medication, or if I go to the ER on Saturday, you know, whatever I was sick or whatever it may be, but I'm fine on Monday I still can't work until I go see the flight doc. There's certain things like that. I throw my back out, I can't take a muscle relaxer until then. Things, you know, just things like that. That kind of it creates it's, I understand it, and there's a reason for it, a good reason, but it does. You know. You talk about resiliency, things like that. It leads, you know, to a stigma like, oh, that, and the career field is doing a very good job of addressing it. And for a long time there was a stigma like, oh, this person's to Nick, like they just want to get out of work, they just want to do that, but they're addressing that and it's. It's a good thing, cause that's not always the case, because there are a lot of people that needed help that weren't seeking help A lot of times, cause that's just the thing. I don't want to go to Nick Like what will they think? And that is being addressed. I think it's for the better.

Nate Scheer:

That's awesome to hear. I'm glad to hear that. I remember sitting in the cab and hearing a long list of ailments from people and they're like I'm not getting seen, like I'm pretty sure, like you need to. Like that's high blood pressure.

Scott:

I'm not like a doctor, but that's not good.

Nate Scheer:

I think you're like you know dangerously about to be heard. So that's, that's good. What are some of the duties now that people are getting put into to help, you know, use them effectively, without you know some of that stigma?

Scott:

So I mean, it's not even, it's not really a whole much. Excuse me, it's not really how they're being used. It's just there. It's called the ATC strong initiative, so it's just led, you know, kind of guided discussions being put out there by the, you know, chiefs and leadership of the career field, Like, hey, this is an issue within our curve, we're losing people because, you know, one of the many things is like, if you go to Nick, you are less than, or something People thought like that's not the case. We would rather you go to Nick, we get you the help, even if you don't go to Nick, whatever it is, get the help you need now, and then we can address it and we'd be, you know, in a better place moving forward than we had. So many people like you were talking about, where it's just, you know, hanging on by a thread and it's just just out of the fear of going to the flight doctor, return to fly on Monday, Right. So I think, I think we're going in a very good direction with that.

Nate Scheer:

It's great to hear that's good stuff. So is there not as much of that stigma where, like, you're affecting and impacting your shift I think that was like the biggest thing where, like, you didn't want to take your shift?

Scott:

out yeah, and that was the and that I mean that was a big part of it, right, and you still don't want that. But ultimately it's getting to the point now where I think a lot of that in the past was sure. I don't want to, you know, burden somebody else to have to care for me, and I think even more so, potentially it was. I don't want them to think X about me when they have to cover for me, versus now it's, you know, because there weren't. You know there were people like, oh, you're a d'nick, it's because you're whatever, but now they're addressing that like, hey, it's, people are getting the help they need and we will, you know, support them in that. You know we're not, we're not going to, you know, bad mouth, you think less than of you, because you're getting the help that you need, so you can then help us. So you know, six months from now you don't have a breakdown, you're gone for ever, versus getting some help now and we can use you long term Air Force career for whatever it may be.

Nate Scheer:

That makes sense. You like mid no?

Scott:

I haven't worked at mid in a long time, thankfully, yes, not great, those windows don't hold in any heat. No, no, it's they're, they're tough, it gets pretty chilly yeah. And then there's, you know, silly stuff happens on mids and it's just and it's. I worked for a long time. I worked two days, two swings, two mids, two off. So that's a rough schedule, yeah no-transcript, zombie of no, and I remember when the go pills and no, no goes came out and I was so excited.

Nate Scheer:

So I was like, oh, aircrew is getting. I'm like we're flight meds, we'll probably be in there, and they're like, no, no, not for you. I was like, what do you mean they? I always remember this whole flight surgeon said your schedule is too regular. I was like how is too too and too too regular. But like they were comparing alert. So, like you know, the aircrew has to go at a moment's notice, like you know got, even though the schedule is kind of whacked out of his mind yeah, that was a tough one.

Scott:

That was a tough one. It was kind of sleeping in shifts and you're like. Your days of the week are replaced with. This is my second day shift, this is my first minute, and you just have no idea of Friday. It's a Tuesday, like inside of a building.

Nate Scheer:

If I couldn't see, you know, the sun and whatnot, I probably wouldn't be able to tell you what time of day or like relatively if it's night or day.

Scott:

No, no idea.

Nate Scheer:

It was crazy. And then you know, only get like four hours of sleep was pretty rough, but going to the DMV on a Tuesday and having me empty was pretty cool. There are advantages, right? Yeah, the crew used to sometimes rolled up midnight showings of brand new movies, which was kind of cool. We were already up, so it's just roll over there, yeah, so that was pretty cool. I'd like to hear a little bit more about. We talked about flight med briefly, but what is that day once a year where you got to go over the clinic and do all those tests?

Scott:

Yeah, PHA. So you got to do the annual. I did that Tuesday.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, so I did a few days ago. Fresh in your mind, that's right.

Scott:

Tuesday. They're actually. They're really good about it here. They're quick, so you go in. There's multiple portions of it. You take an audiogram, so you go sit in that booth, you know click on the crazy tone if you're here. And then you know there's a vision part of it. I failed my vision test last year so I had to get glasses. It's great. And then you know, just your standard medical checkup outside of that, you know color vision color vision. I think I get rid of it, that's. I think it's an I think it's an initial thing, and you pass it once and you're done. I don't know. We have done it multiple times I don't, and I know I've done some of the one on the computer now too. But I don't know. It's definitely not an annual thing because I haven't done in a while, but I don't know. I don't know the procedures, but I know what you're talking about, because I've done it multiple times because I remember it was had color on.

Nate Scheer:

It was the circle with the color and I remember I had to do one before I cross trained. That was black and white. I was like that doesn't mean he sent, I'm looking for color and there's no color on here like oh, it somehow can tell, or something Fascinating, I don't know. I'll have to now look it up yeah. Send it to you because it looked similar but it had a lot less color. So maybe the lack of color proves something. I don't know. It was really weird. Move on to some more positives. I'd love to hear about some unique opportunities that your career field presents.

Scott:

So we can kind of go everywhere, which is great. There's a radar or tower at most basis. So if you want to, if you're in a career field, it's kind of limiting and you want to get something that's a little more wide open, air traffic is one of those. There's a big initiative within kind of the MCA push within the Air Force, some called LZSO, where you kind of go out and you know run a landing zone type, type area, so it's just kind of like a more austere environment, just a dirt strip, potentially somewhere, and you're just out there with a radio and potentially a team of a couple other guys and you're kind of running that landing zone there's a lot more to it. There's survey and stuff like that. However, you know the nuts and bolts of it is you kind of get there, assess an area for the feasibility of landing certain types of aircraft there, and there's a process for that, and then do that, and then you kind of just work it from there. Whether it's out, it's kind of just. It's a really cool. I've had the chance to do a little bit and a lot of people are getting the chance to do it.

Nate Scheer:

And it's a very, very cool thing.

Scott:

It's a cool thing if you're like you know, as opposed to just kind of being stuck within a tower, you know dark room somewhere, you kind of get out and do that and that's kind of a cool thing they're doing now.

Nate Scheer:

It's a sort of a tangent, but a funny story I was going to mention earlier but I totally forgot but you reminded me. So in basic training there was only two of us in my flight that were air traffic and so I ran over the guy once I heard and I was so excited. I was like, oh, why'd you pick this? And he said because I want to be outside. Oh no, I was like oh, do you think you're the marshaller? He's like yeah. I was like we need to, we need to talk. So I had to like talk and he was so bummed he wanted to be fresh air and outside I was like you're inside all the time. It's the opposite. But I'm glad you touched on that because I wanted to hear if you had any experience with, like CRG, because they kind of do some of that. But it sounds like it's expanding from where it used to.

Scott:

Yep, they do a lot of that, and now there's a few courses they have. There's one up on Dakota, the official ones out in Scott, and they're kind of set kind of trying to pop. You know, the magical comes to try to pop up all over the place and it's cool. We've actually got to send some people out and do it with the Marines. The Marines have their version of that kind of deal, so we've gotten to send some people down with them. We got to send some people to the Philippines a few months ago to go do that kind of stuff. So it's just, it's a cool opportunity, especially if you like, like I said, you like to get out of the inside office type environment.

Nate Scheer:

That is definitely a unique environment. Have you deployed? I have. So for deployment, can you briefly kind of run us through what it looks like when you have fixed wing helicopters and drones all playing in the same space?

Scott:

Well, it's a deployment, so there's less rules, so it's kind of just do what you Now, right, it's like everybody on deployment, especially with air traffic. So, generally speaking, right, and if I was to show up at a facility it's going to take me a few months to get qualified, you know, up to a few months. But if on deployment you don't have that time, so it's kind of like you're there and a couple of days later, two, three days later, you're the guy you're relieving is gone. So there's not really much of an option. So it's kind of just like a figure it out type deal. So but yes, it is. It can be kind of kind of chaotic at times.

Nate Scheer:

That totally makes sense. I want to touch on two more acronyms that I hope I don't butcher, but atcals and turps, I think.

Scott:

Yes At Cal's. Oh geez, this is so bad.

Nate Scheer:

Just different opportunities, you know.

Scott:

OK, ok, ok, good yeah, so Terps they build like the oh man.

Nate Scheer:

How do space airs kind of.

Scott:

They they build the airspace for again, I'm butchering this they help design arrivals and departures and figure out, you know, when airplanes on this kind of arrival, where they have to cross these altitudes, all the kind of the routes getting to and from places that people can do at Cal's. We don't do a lot with that Cal's anymore, so, yeah, but Terps is definitely something that people can do, something that people can do Excuse me, combat airspace is another one where you're going and, like you said, like designing air spaces, deals like that within air traffic. What other opportunities are there? Terps and Combat Airspace are two of the bigger ones. The CRGs are big ones. Yeah, you can get out a little bit if you, if you look for stuff.

Nate Scheer:

What's the main difference between air traffic If someone is more familiar with air traffic and ABM? Air battle manager.

Scott:

I have no idea. I don't know what ABMs do, so I don't know. You'll have to find one I do. That's bad, because I do have a buddy who commissioned and he's an ABM, but he said, being a prior controller, he gets mad at the ABMs who think that they're traffic controllers. Take that for what, take that for what it's worth. I don't know. But I don't know what they do so I can't tell you the difference. I'm sorry.

Nate Scheer:

Okay, no, it's all good, Just highlighting some things. That's good. Next question is can you speak to? This is funny Because I just told that story but common misconceptions or stereotypes about your career field and what it's really like.

Scott:

So I think people get the stressful thing. People think it's stressful all the time. That's generally speaking. That's not the case. Like I said, there are. There are large Porsche, even at some of the busier bases that you can go to. There are large chunks of the day where there's nothing going on. There's just no planes flying around right. It's not a you know airport that you're flying in and out of New York, where it's just planes all day, every day, generally speaking, at military bases, not like that. So there are portions where, and generally speaking, opportunities for you to kind of decompress a little bit, relax. So it's not go go go all the time.

Nate Scheer:

You have to find time to take your proficiency test. That's right.

Scott:

It's a proficiency assessment oh assessment yes, and you can't fail oh yeah. So that's exciting.

Nate Scheer:

I thought the three levels always just took it for everybody.

Scott:

May or may not have happened.

Nate Scheer:

So a question I had just briefly I thought it was interesting the position of chief controller. So I've been in air traffic and contracting and there's terms that kind of confuse people like contracting officer isn't actually an officer and the chief controller isn't actually necessarily a chief. Can you kind of describe the role of the chief controller?

Scott:

Yes, so the chief controller just oversees there the ranking enlisted air traffic controller of the facility. So generally speaking it's a master, senior or chief, depending on the size of the facility. Here at Canadian it's a senior. Most towers, most of your busier towers like here, are senior. The chiefs, the chief chief controllers, are generally reserved for larger radars because there's more people and then obviously your staff position and stuff like that. But yeah, they run the. You know they're in charge of the, like any other section chief, they're in charge of that facility.

Nate Scheer:

Makes sense. Yeah, that's funny. I remember you know people looking for the contracting officer and you pointed to like the senior airmen and they're like what? No, no, that's the contracting officer, I don't know. It seems odd. Another funny story, since I love stories all up in this one up the most tour to place on base is the tower, giant windows, right, it looks amazing. And so we had a DV from somewhere in an Asian country, I don't remember where, and he came up and just burst out laughing and everyone in the tower cabs just trying to kind of listen, trying to wait, waiting for the interpreters, we're not really sure like if we did something or something happened, and he translates over to the translator. The translator finally tells us and the translation was I can't believe you allow enlisted to tell your officers where to go.

Scott:

Oh, wow I was like whoa.

Nate Scheer:

And so he said which I never confirmed to this day, which I should have probably before this podcast but we're the only country in the world, apparently, that allows ease to control traffic.

Scott:

Don't know if that's certain, but that we definitely have, if if we're not the only ones, we definitely have a. I think we would be one of the only ones that has such a high percentage. We have all these basically doing it. But yeah, other countries it's officers or senior enlisted types over. They just have a lower percentage of enlisted doing it. So because the 13 might gets rated though.

Nate Scheer:

Once kind of and then they do they really, oh, that's, that's funny. But yeah, I love that story because I love to pass it on to people, because we in give so much responsibility and empowerment to our people. You got, you know 18 year old boom operators that are pushing this giant, you know metal tube, towards another jet. That's worth, you know the one jets, 100 million and the other jets somewhere I don't know, 90 million or something, and you know could take out everyone and air traffic, keeping everyone separated. So you see, paul, that are somewhere between 18 and 20, were empowering them to be able to make these decisions and heavy responsibility.

Scott:

It's just super cool. Yes, and I would say, on a day to day operation or yes, on a day to day level, like a watch supervisor has just the amount of responsibility that they have of just you know the potential for things that go on, the things that you have to pay attention to all the time on a day to day basis it can be a you know brand new staff sergeant, just day in, day out. The amount of responsibility in such a dynamic you know situation, or its environment, I should say, is it's incredible to me. It blows me away all the time.

Nate Scheer:

It's awesome. We have the greatest Air Force, for sure, little cheesy little blue. But geez, we are. We do some awesome things. I want to finish out here with a few pieces of advice from you. So what's one piece of advice you'd give to someone starting out in your career field?

Scott:

Just work hard and appreciate what you get to do. I think and again tinted by my rose colored glasses but it's just a cool job. And you, it's just a cool opportunity to go to have a front row seat, especially somewhere like Kadena, some other base, especially. You get, you have a front row seat, you get to see an air show every day potentially, and it's cool. And not only do you get to see the air show, you are in charge of said air show. So I think it's a really cool opportunity to kind of work hard and then kind of it's a grind, but also like take a step back, kind of like soak in a little bit. It's, it's cool.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, how can you pass up the gun show?

Scott:

Right, yeah, oh there's something about it.

Nate Scheer:

It's just amazing. One of my favorite sites is the B1, heavy B1. Sorry, there you go. All, all communication with her about heavy aircraft. The heavy B1, full afterburner, all those four engines go in. Just a glorious site to see especially tonight, yep. Exactly what's the most important personality trait or strength that you think someone needs? We talked about not necessarily intelligence, but what do you think that personality trait is that someone needs in this industry? Man?

Scott:

The one. I have to narrow it down to one. Huh, the most important, oh man, adaptability. Yeah, figure it out, there's going to be, you know time doesn't slow down, they don't stop, nope. They're not moving while you're thinking so or, excuse me, they're not stopping while you're thinking so. Yeah, I would say, adaptability is a big one, even holding.

Nate Scheer:

They're still moving.

Scott:

That's right, that's right.

Nate Scheer:

Okay, last question we got. So we're going to intertwine, weave in mental fitness thoughts in every single one of these. These are some of our lighter episodes that we want to make sure that we're taking care of ourselves. We might have have to have Scott back on another episode to talk about. You know more of the heavy stuff later on, but we'll we'll keep it on the light side on this one. So last question what's a mental fitness thought, tip, trick or personal story you have?

Scott:

So I'm lucky, I'm a pretty even keeled guy, right, but I also, on top of that, I got challenged myself every day and I think part you know something I didn't really mention earlier, is it kind of you know things? I do help me with this, but it's, it's can be good on its own. It's trying to have just perspective. I think perspective can just take a step back, step up, step out whatever term for it and just really a little bit of perspective will make you. It can. It can flip a situation on its head, and I've, I've actually found that a few times. One of the times, you know, recently, like Chaplin came through randomly in my office doing whatever, and he came in, he was just talking to me about just you know, just doing Chaplin stuff and just dragging stuff out of me, and then, like after getting done, talked to him, like I told him I was like man, I really because, like I said, I was in the office, kind of in the middle, just some, just whatever stuff I didn't want to do, kind of feeling down on myself. And he comes in and he's whatever, talked to him and I, just after getting done, talked to, I told him like man, like like I got a good like if I would have just he dragged it out of me, but if I would have been able to find a little perspective on my own. You can really realize like things may not be as bad or as hard as you think they are. Or if they are, it may be temporary, whatever time you want to assign to temporary, but it can really kind of help you get through some things, I think.

Nate Scheer:

Yeah, that's a really good one. I remember one time I was in contracting and somebody had complained, made an off comment, about having like two short of a lunch at an hour, an hour and 15 or something, and I always remember that because I always thought of I was at Travis at the time of the flight line workers working 12 hours over 100 degrees, just like hiding under the wing just to have like 100 instead of 110 and just having a terrible day, and probably would loving, would love to get into an AC of any building and have any sort of lunch they're probably eating out there.

Scott:

I know a few guys. I don't mean to interrupt you, I know a few guys like within air traffic that have the story like how'd you get in there traffic? I was on the flight line, I looked up and I said what is that? I want to be in there because it's either, you know, 10 degrees below zero or 110 degrees right.

Nate Scheer:

So I think the only downside to being in the tower is when there's a sweet kid rock concert in the hangar at Travis and you're on the night shift watching it from binoculars and you have to hear how sweet the show was. I was a little sad to hear how cool the whiskey glass spinning on the turntables was. I could kind of see it, you know, at least the lights flashing from the hangar. So that was pretty interesting. But yeah, that's a super good one. I have a quick story again. I love stories. I don't know if I've told this one hopefully not but I love learning from life. Not necessarily books and things like that. Books are super great, but I feel like when you learn from life itself, it's more meaningful and you remember it better. And so I was taking my son Ezekiel to CDC. I flew into the parking lot I don't remember if I was running later, what was going on but there was a car parked and it was over the line. I was so frustrated. I was like this person is inconsiderate, they don't care about people. How could they be over their line? Why didn't they just back up? Why didn't they adjust? And I just went through this huge range of emotion for something that's really minuscule and doesn't really matter. And so I go in, I drop him off and then I come back and guess what happened. The car was gone and I was now over the line because I had sidestepped and so in a matter of a few minutes, the perspective that you talk about, how it just completely flipped. I was so irritated, this person, they were the worst person on earth. And then I was the person. So the next person pulling in is now thinking I'm terrible and I did this and I had no ill intent. I didn't even know I did it. I just did it, naturally because they were already over. But yeah, looking at the blank spot, that was the car before. No one knows that but me, and so it's a good reminder to myself. Like in an instant, just boom, just dropped him off and now I'm in completely the opposite shoes without really doing anything. So it was really interesting. I will always remember that, yeah. So I want to summarize some of the main points and takeaways. You touched on being able to push through things and having that resiliency. I definitely appreciate that. That is super important. You highlighted some of the really cool things about air traffic and really remembering how cool a job that is, with having a daily air show right in front of you and getting paid to do it. So that's pretty sweet. We touched on a few things like having to go through the physical each year. Some other small challenges like not being able to take different medicines and things like that. But you definitely touched on the stigma and the career field going in the right direction, which is super good to hear that people are taking care of themselves and, like you said, not hanging on by a thread and getting the help they need now and taking a few days to have them in the fight for the long haul. So you kind of take the temporary pain to be able to get them back in the fight for the long haul, which is super good. I encourage all of our listeners to share their thoughts and questions on social media. If you do want to share your story on any of your AFSCs or even the mental fitness things that you've gone through, where you want to highlight and try to get the message out to other people, to try to connect, please let me know and we'll get you on the show. We'll make it happen, but I want to thank you today. Thanks for coming out, scott.

Scott:

Thanks for having me. It's been really cool.

Nate Scheer:

Thank you for listening to AFSCs one through nine. Remember exploring different career fields and important stuff and finding the right path for you, like we talked about today that perfect fit. Join us next time as we continue to explore different career paths and the opportunities they offer. If you have any questions or want to share your story, please contact us. Wow, I got to edit that.

Scott:

We'll see you next time.

Air Traffic Control and Favorite Reads
Air Traffic Control Challenges and Lessons
Controller Career Challenges and Rewards
Air Traffic Controllers
Addressing Air Traffic Control Stigma
Air Force Initiatives and Opportunities
Air Traffic Control Stress and Roles
Encouraging Listener Engagement and Career Exploration