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Senior Airman Mindy Bloem, 506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
01.21.2010For some, it takes years to discover what they want to do with their lives. For others, it seems ingrained in them since childhood. Such was the case for one child, who dreamed of leaving her small town to one day join the military.
Staff Sgt. Ana Maria Martin, 506th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron watch supervisor, remembers watching military parades while growing up in her New Mexico town of Las Cruces and knowing she would one day share in that heritage.
"It's something I've always wanted to do," she said. "Ever since I was little I just knew I wanted to join the military. Every time I saw someone in uniform, I knew that was going to be me one day."
Now years later, she has seen that dream fulfilled as she dutifully directs traffic from the tower at Kirkuk Regional Air Base – something else she knew would be good fit for her.
"I chose this career because of my cousin who was doing air traffic at the time – the other side of air traffic – radar, and she told me I have to get this job," Martin recalled. "She told me it was the best job in the Air Force and that if I could get it, then I should. I did get it and I agree with her."
Martin finished high school at 17, but waited until she was 18 to enlist in the military. She has just recently re-enlisted and says she doesn't plan on getting out anytime soon. In fact, she is hoping to retire from the military and from this career field.
"I just really enjoy the change of pace that comes with being an air traffic controller," she said. "Nothing is ever the same. Every situation is different and I like that. I'm not the type of person who likes normal routines. I like to have things vary from day to day."
In her case, that's a good thing, especially considering her schedule is made up of day shifts, mid shifts and swing shifts.
"I like that," she said. "I've adapted to that schedule, and I feel I get to have more time to do things during the day and still come to work."
Martin arrived here in October and will leave sometime in April. This deployment marks the first for the watch supervisor who is enjoying the overall experience.
"The whole military scene always made me feel like I was doing something good," she said. "I love that feeling of doing something good for your country. It's awesome to know the planes got to where they needed to get to because of me."
Master Sgt. Allan Turk, 506th EOSS control tower chief controller, said Martin's love for her job is evident in the way she performs the mission. He said that although she is one of his youngest watch supervisors, he doesn't worry because of the way she handles herself.
"Sgt. Martin is a very motivated worker," he said. "Right from the beginning of her rotation she has been performing like a star. If I have something that needs done, she has no problems taking on the task and getting it completed. You can tell she genuinely enjoys being an Air Traffic Controller."
She is an example to her co-workers as well.
"I have had the privilege of working with her, here in Kirkuk, for two months, said Staff Sgt. Isaac Yi, 506th EOSS air traffic controller. "I strive to be comparable to her competence both as an air traffic control watch supervisor and as an NCO."
As part of her job, Martin directs the inbound and outbound air traffic for the Air Force pilots as well as the Iraqi air force pilots being trained here. She admitted feeling the challenge of adapting to the new environment initially due to the language barrier.
"When you first get here, you're so used to hearing the American pilots," she said. "You know what they're saying – what they're requesting. Here it's different. You just have to develop a controller ear to hear what they're saying. Once you start hearing how they say things, it's a lot easier to do your job."
Having now developed an ear for their accent, Martin feels empowered and honored to play her part in Iraq's future.
"It's so good to know that I'm helping out with their training and with their future air traffic controllers," she said.
Martin said her focus is to get the planes in and out safely and support the overall mission of our Armed Forces.
"I love working with the planes," she said. "It's such a rush to work with air traffic." She also takes pleasure in knowing she's helped to get people back where they belong once their mission is complete.
"I really experienced that about a month ago when the Army was doing their changeover," the sergeant said. "The C-17s were coming in, and I'm up here [in the tower] and can see hundreds of Army personnel loading onto the C-17. It was just incredible to know that we're helping them get back to see their families."
The sergeant has come a long way from her New Mexican town – across the ocean, in fact. However, her goals have remained the same – to make a difference for her country. As an air traffic controller, she is definitely accomplishing that goal.