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Maintenance SNCO blooms through Reserve, Alaska Airlines careers (Part 1 of 3)

by Jake Chappelle
446th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

7/11/2014 - MCCHORD FIELD, Wash. -- Twenty three years ago Marty Hitt was beside himself.

In his lap, he clutched the Air Force enlistment paperwork he signed moments earlier prior to hopping on the bus, which left the Military Entrance Processing Station in Richmond, Virginia. With "I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States ..." permeating in his mind - there was no turning back for the James Monroe High School senior from Fredericksburg, Virginia.

"What did I just do?" he said, looking back on the frigid winter evening.

This isn't a rare scenario among anxious military recruits who ponder the horror stories and urban myths of basic training. But Hitt's circumstances varied a little ... it was Jan. 17, 1991.

"They just fired the first shot of the war, and here I am holding paperwork," said the 41-year-old senior master sergeant, recalling his frame of mind after hearing about the initial strike on Iraq in Operation Desert Storm.

The 60-mile bus ride to Fredericksburg gave him plenty of time to chew through his plate of emotions. But with graduation approaching and limited guidance, enlisting into the active-duty Air Force was his only alternative.

"I wasn't the guy who was going to get up and go to the University of Virginia or something like that," said the 446th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, Blue Aircraft Maintenance Unit assistant superintendent. "I didn't have the grades or anything, and I didn't have a lot of direction or guidance to go. I heard you can get a good education, get a job, and I did get a little insight from my stepfather because he did a little time in the military."

Despite fear of being shipped overseas as an inexperienced airman, Hitt's first assignment was at McChord Air Force Base - now Joint Base Lewis-McChord - Washington, which would be his only duty station.

"[The active-duty Air Force] brought me out here, and I've stayed ever since," said the Spanaway, Washington resident. "I did seven years on active duty, then joined the [446th Airlift Wing - Air Force Reserve], and I've been here for all 23 years."

In 1998, Hitt and his wife decided to plant their feet in the Pacific Northwest; an opportunity to become a maintenance technician with Alaska Airlines in Seattle emerged.

"My wife and I had been married for a few years, and we'd been talking about wanting to settle and have our family," said the father of two teenagers. "So I got my [Airframe and Powerplant mechanic's] license to work on the civilian side, got off active duty, and put out my resume to everywhere possible, every major airline. Two responses came, one being Alaska - and I made the best move, hands down."

Hitt's presence made an impact.

"Guys like Marty are the reason why we're successful today," said Loren Jones, Hitt's coworker and Alaska Airlines veteran. "He's got all the right stuff, and he's a natural fit for being in a training department, because he has a lot of experience."

Hitt said, similar to the Reserve, customer fulfillment is what he prides himself in with his Alaska Airlines position.

"I like being recognized as part of the brand name of Alaska," he said. "I like when someone flies, the first thing I ask them is 'who did you fly with and why?' he said. "The people tell me it's Alaska, and I'm like 'well how was it?' The people I work with care and want to know. If somebody said they didn't have the best experience, then there's a buzz about it and it gets fixed. It feels good."

As a maintenance training instructor with the airline, Hitt said some of his Reserve duties carry over, such as monitoring computer based training.

"A lot of the stuff I do on base, I do here," he said. "We handle recurrent training, like cold-weather training. I'll do refreshers on our ground equipment, safety, and scenario-driven training."

With his duties at the airline being so similar to his profession at the 446th, Hitt applies his military skills and experience to them whenever he can.

"The lifestyle I learned to live in the military, that structure, is what really helped me."

Some of his non-military colleagues spot it.

"A lead here made a comment to me one time, and he goes, 'no disrespect to anybody, but I can walk in here and I can point out this person, this person, and this person, and they've been in the military.' I'm like, 'why is that?' he just goes, 'by your work ethic, by how you do your stuff, how you're organized, and just the normal operation of how you do things on a daily basis. You're willing to get up and help people do things, just do that little extra and know what it means. I took that as a big complement."

Hitt said the personal element is another reason he likes working for the airline. He and the other line workers are on a first-name basis with management, and can approach them with any issues they have.

"You're not a number. You're not just a guy."

However, he makes every effort he can to make it easier for them when the Reserve gives him the call.

"When it comes to working with [Alaska] and my schedule, I've never had a problem. I always give it my best to give them as much notice as possible. But they're very accommodating."

The flowing transition from Air Force Reservist to Alaska Airlines worker, and back could be a factor that allows him to continue both careers for so long, but Hitt said it's also about the connections he's gained.

"I think the biggest things are the relationships you have with people, and being able to help them," Hitt said, reflecting on his careers. "I'm at the point where it's not about me. It's doing what I can to help further people in their careers. That's the rewarding part."

As a leader of younger airmen, he said his job evolved from C-17 Globemaster III aircraft crew chief to mentor and counselor.

"I've always liked being part of that team helping people, helping guys struggling in certain areas and helping them over that hump," he added. "You want that open-door policy for a relationship. When I have people come to me with their problems, that tells me I'm doing my job."

"He's a turnkey guy," said Senior Master Sgt. Mark Cherrix, 446th Blue AMU superintendent. "Point to what needs to be done and he gets it done. He's always mentoring [airmen] and helping them with career decisions. You don't have to worry about him. He's gonna run it. It's gonna get done."

Hitt couldn't ask for more from his comrades in AMXS.

"I've been pretty fortunate," he said about being in the unit. "I love the uniform. I tell people I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for what the military has done for me. There's no question about that."

It might be safe to imagine he doesn't regret holding on to his paperwork in 1991. Now, he's beside his family and two extensive careers.

*Story at a Glance • The first installment of a three-part human interest feature series about three Air Force Reservists who double, as a pilot, Life path gives C-17 pilot high careers with Alaska, Reserve, an aircraft maintainer, Maintenance SNCO blooms through Reserve, Alaska Airlines careers, and a customer service agent, McChord Reservist, Alaska Airlines agent targets prime customer satisfaction, for Alaska Airlines.