260 ATC airman begins new chapter

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Mark Wyatt
  • 157th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs
Airmen generally enter the military with a plan; that plan, however, is subject to change throughout an enlistment, or even a career. When Airman 1st Class Abdiel Casanas began his military journey more than three years ago, the plan was simple: Gain invaluable experience in a career field that interests him.

"My original plan was to become a civilian air traffic controller and I thought the Air National Guard would help me get there," said Airman 1st Class Abdiel Casanas, assigned to the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron, that is until he leaves early next month for the United State Air Force Academy Prep School in Colorado Springs.

His path to enlisting in the Air National Guard unknowingly began when walking the halls of his high school in Manchester his sophomore year when he picked up a lanyard he found on the floor that said, "Go ANG."

Oblivious to what it was, but looking useful to him, Casanas held on to the lanyard as a key chain -- until one day when he was bored he decided to look further into it.

"As it turned out, it had a website about the military, the Reserve component specifically," he said. "The site said: 'Part Time Blue, Full Time You.'"

After reading the success stories of others on the website, he was convinced that joining the Air National Guard was what he wanted to do so that he can later secure the civilian position he wanted.

Missing the chance to become an air traffic controller, and yet still determined to enlist, Casanas ended up on another path.

"I ended up becoming an airfield systems technician," Casanas said. "We work with electronics that are related to air traffic control. To get my foot in the door, I decided to become an airfield systems technician for three years and then cross train into air traffic control."

For Casanas, not sure that he wanted to make the Air Force, or the Air National Guard, a career, it was all about gaining the experience to pursue a civilian air traffic controller career.

"But once I joined the 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron, I loved it," he said. "I began to think bigger."

Not surprising to his Air National Guard recruiter, who knew early on Casanas had the makings to be something more.

"My first impression of him was that this young man was extremely driven," said Master Sgt. Mark Bohac, 157th Force Support Squadron Recruiting supervisor. "I was impressed at how persistent and focused Abdiel was in reaching his end-goals."

It's that determination and drive that has put him in the position he is in today.

Casanas loved the lifestyle, the people and the Air Force core values, his perspective began to change.

"It's because of how much I enjoyed the military," said Casanas. "I no longer wanted to become an air traffic controller and stay enlisted; I wanted to see if I could go further than that ... perhaps become a pilot one day."

After attending a briefing on commissioning while in tech school at Keesler Air Force Base, Miss., Casanas became intrigued at the prospect to commission through an appointment at the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"My commander told me that there was a program called, Leadership Encouraging Airmen Development, or LEAD" he said. "All I needed was three letters of recommendation: one from my immediate commander, another commissioned officer and my first sergeant."

The Air Force Academy sets aside 170 appointments through the LEAD program, many of which are not filled.

"The LEAD program was designed by Gen. Fogleman in 1995, specifically to encourage prior enlisted Airmen to pursue the Air Force Academy," said Lt. Col. Michelle C. Carns, 338th Training Squadron "Dark Knights" commander. "I think that sends a strong message about how much the Air Force values prior enlisted experience in the officer corps."

So Casanas began asking more questions.

"We have an extremely high caliber of airman who come through Keesler for training, but Airman Casanas was driven by a dream to attend the Air Force Academy," said Carns, author of one of his letters of recommendation. "That showed through in everything he did--his professionalism, his commitment and his drive. It was an honor to be part of his journey towards that goal."

At Pease, his commander was not as familiar with the young airman.

"Since I have little to no interaction with a new airman prior to tech school, I could not have made the same informed recommendation that Lt. Col. Carns recognized and brought to fruition," said Lt. Col. Strider Sulley, 260th Air Traffic Control Squadron commander and author of his second recommendation. "Once I was alerted to the process, I focused a bit more on his attributes -- I liked what I observed, and continued to facilitate the application process from Pease."

Sulley notes that among the qualities he was most impressed by was his ability to speak in front of large groups of people, a quality that is fundamental to leadership.

"The trait that stands out to me is that he is fearless in a crowd," Sulley said. "I have been in command for four-and-a-half years, I have enlisted more than 30 airmen - Airman Casanas is the first to accept the invite to stand in front of the complete squadron and introduce himself."

"He is a bright, engaging and humble airman who has the attributes to become an effective leader in our Air Force," Sulley said.

Bohac looks forward to watching him grow in the United States Air Force.

"It truly makes me proud to know that I was able to assist in bringing him into our great service," he said.

Carns believes the secrets to success for airmen in today's Air Force are simple to unlock.

"The qualities required to be successful are the things we all have at our disposal--the core values, the Airman's Creed, AFI 1-1 and AFI 36-2618," she said. "It's what we do with those things and how each airman lives them day-to-day that assures success at the Air Force Academy."

Advice Casanas, soon-to-be Cadet Casanas, agrees has changed the course of his life.

"Every single time someone asks me about the Air National Guard, I tell them that it has changed my life completely - it's the best thing I have ever done."