Identifying an aptitude

During a recent discussion in his Capitol office, Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Charles, discusses how his seven years of naval service helped identify an aptitude that led to a career as an air traffic controller.

During a recent discussion in his Capitol office, Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Charles, discusses how his seven years of naval service helped identify an aptitude that led to a career as an air traffic controller.

The waning years of adolescence can be a tumultuous time for a young person as they begin to establish a pathway toward education, employment or both. This can be a time fraught with uncertainty as they seek some direction based upon their interests and abilities.

State Rep. Bill Otto, D-St. Charles, was not immune to these youthful worries, but asserts his service in the Navy helped provide the foundation for a successful career outside of the military.

A native of the St. Louis area, Otto was attending the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 1975, when he realized a key factor was missing in his life.

“I lacked direction,” Otto said, “and school just didn’t seem to be providing that for me.”

In 1976, he embarked upon the journey to find this missing component by enlisting in the U.S. Navy.

Otto said, “I chose to be ‘non-designated’ in my (military) job selection because as a 20-year-old kid, I felt that I could join, look around, and see what career option would be best suited for me.”

Following the completion of his boot camp at Great Lakes, Ill., the young sailor traveled to Whidbey Island, Wash., where he was assigned to an all-weather air station.

As Otto explained, “The squadron I was assigned to had EA6bs — an aircraft that is able to jam the radio and communication traffic over a large geographic area.”

Still classified as non-designated in his career choice, Otto had the flexibility to work in different positions to acquire a sense of his aptitudes and abilities. He worked briefly at the station’s kitchen and golf course, but something else soon captured his attention.

“The air traffic control (ATC) mission really fascinated me,” Otto said. “There weren’t any billets available in my squadron, but my supervisors encouraged me to explore this interest … so I began studying for the ATC exam.”

Delving into the bookwork aspect of ATC operations, Otto successfully completed the exam and was transferred to an available ATC billet in another squadron.

In the early months of 1978, he was assigned to an air traffic control tower and began learning the daily operations associated with overseeing and managing local air traffic.

Otto later discovered there were certain ATC duties that better fit his personality, and in early 1980, he was transferred to the radar room. In this new position, he learned additional skills such as the separation of aircraft and management of aircraft landing sequences.

He re-enlisted later the same year, but in 1981, received a temporary transfer to Seattle to perform ATC duties when thousands of civilian controllers were fired during the PATCO (Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization) strike.

He returned to Whidbey Island following the strike and, in 1983, left the service after completing his enlistment.

For more than two decades, he went to work for the FAA as a controller, using the skills he acquired in the Navy, and eventually retired from Lambert International Airport in St. Louis in 2007.

Spending a brief period running a custom cabinetry business, he soon became involved in politics after working with the AFL-CIO, spending six months running the organization’s political program in eastern Missouri in 2010.

With a newly discovered political interest, Otto said, “The (state) representative seat was coming open last year and I decided to run.”

Otto won the election and now serves as the freshman legislator for the state’s newly formed 70th District.

The freshman lawmaker has been appointed to the House Veterans Committee and maintains his military service has been one of the most important influences over the course of his career.

“Most of my formative years were spent in the service,” he said. “I was fortunate that the Navy gave me a chance to identify and develop an aptitude for a job that I didn’t even know I could perform.

“The primary benefit during my service time is that I had good, supportive supervisors who sought to utilize my talents in the best capacity possible, which eventually provided me with the skills leading to a successful career with the FAA,” he said.

Jeremy Amick is the public affairs officer for the Silver Star Families of America.

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