Coraopolis, Pa. -- Note: This article was originally featured in the August/September 2014 issue of Greenesaver, a local newspaper prouduced in Green County, Pennsylvania.
With nearly 14,000 aircraft being utilized across every branch of the United States Armed Forces, the need for trained specialists in all areas - pilots, mechanics, electronics technicians, air traffic controllers and others - is ever-present. One of Greene County's own, Carmichaels native Kristie Volchko, is definitely on board.
Kristie holds the rank of Senior Airman with the United States Air Force. Although assigned to the Air National Guard's 171st Air Refueling Wing near Pittsburgh, she is deployed at the time of this writing, and is at Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar, soon be sent to Afghanistan to continue her assignment. While stateside, her Air National Guard service falls under the purview of the state government; while deployed overseas, however, her status changes to active duty under the United States Air Force.
Even in a brief "conversation" held via email, two things become apparent: First, Kristie takes great pride in serving her country, at home or overseas; second, she really loves aircraft, whether flying them, or helping keep them safely in the air. This is her fifth year in the military, and she plans to re-enlist when her contract is up in February of next year.
"In the Air Force, I am assigned to the 'R&R' (Repair and Reclamation) shop, which handles aircraft maintenance," she notes. Even a partial list of the tasks she fulfills on a regular basis boggles the mind, a diverse assortment including, "Strut repacking, landing gear truck changes, flight control rigging, changing of flight control surfaces, troubleshooting for flight control surfaces, rigging and changing throttle cables, and," she concludes casually, "the list goes on."
When Kristie recalls her early memories, you know this career choice was truly her destiny. "I have always had a desire to serve in the military, since I was about 3 years old, and it never subsided," she says. "When I was 21, I decided I was going to join the Air National Guard, where I figured I could get the best of both civilian life and military life."
Kristie's passion for planes coincided with her interest in the military all along, then came the day when one exciting experience converted interest into a firm personal commitment. "I saw the Blue Angels at Virginia Beach, and decided right then that I would be a pilot someday."
Her education has been intense, and is ongoing. Speaking of her aircraft maintenance skills, she says, "Training for my job took 13 weeks of tech school in Wichita Falls, Texas. It continues at my home unit in Pittsburgh, where it's 'hands-on' training, as well as computer based training." As for learning to fly, however, Kristie notes, "I attended ATP Flight School in Atlanta, Georgia, and received my 'Commercial Single' and 'Multi-Engine' pilot certificates, as well as 'instrument rating,'" which is special training that prepares pilots to fly in low-visibility conditions by relying on instrumentation on board the aircraft.
With so many chances to express her lifelong ambitions, it's no wonder that Kristie stands firmly behind her choices. "The benefits of joining the Guard made it hard to pass up," she affirms, adding, "Being part of this organization has granted me opportunities that that I would not otherwise have had. Not only has it given me the benefit of traveling and seeing the world; it has also given me educational benefits, and real world experiences that will help me in my civilian life as well as my military career."
Whether intentional or not, Kristie's exuberance and positivity, along with her unwillingness to settle for less than fulfillment of her life's wishes, make her an inspiring role model for young women and anyone else who wonders if it's possible to live the life they've imagined. One has to wonder: who motivated her to become the person she is today? "I have to thank my dad for that," she says. "He has stood behind me every step of the way, and out of his generosity and kindness, he saw to it that I attended school to achieve a life-long goal of becoming a certificated pilot." She continues, "When I would call him, stressed out about my next check ride, or my next lesson objective that seemed so overwhelming, he would remind me that no person's worth is measured when everything is going smooth--it's measured in how well they adapt to adversity."
She certainly seems to have adapted seamlessly to any potential obstacles, turning them into springboards to reach ever higher levels of accomplishment. "The biggest challenge for me," she observes, "especially being overseas, is my sleep schedule, and being reacquainted with no indoor plumbing in our living quarters; and of course, missing my family, friends, and dogs!" Her eventual career goal is to be a commercial pilot, "hopefully for a small private company," she adds, and to stay active in the Air National Guard.