Trouble-shooting from the field
- By Dan Verton
- Oct 18, 1998
In 1973, 18-year-old Terry Shatzer charted a course that would take him on a 25-year journey across every continent and to a rewarding military career in command, control and computers.
Shatzer, now an Air Force master sergeant serving as communications-electronics superintendent at the Air Combat Command (ACC), entered the service at a time when command and control (C2) was defined by a network of high-
frequency radios and a series of hand and arm signals. In the small town of Kansas, Ohio, where he was born, Shatzer approached four service recruiters in 1973. Only the Air Force would guarantee him a job in electronics.
"Something just clicked with the Air Force recruiter," Shatzer recalled. "I wanted a job in communications and electronics, and the Air Force guaranteed it to me."
Shatzer remains in the same occupational specialty today promised to him many years ago by the recruiter in Ohio. He manages a team of 30 system administrators who support more than 1,000 users at Langley Air Force Base, Va.
Most of Shatzer's time in the Air Force has been spent working with air traffic control systems, C2 radio systems and satellites. His latest tour of duty, however, has him working from a field support laboratory, trouble-shooting state-of-the-art desktop systems and client/server networks, including the Global Command and Control System and the Theater Battle Management Core System— the two main systems the Air Force will rely on for its future C2 capability.
Don Gray, a systems engineer at ACC and one of Shatzer's civilian co-workers, said Shatzer's background in mobile communications has brought a fresh outlook to the program. "He's a skilled manager, and his people have [a lot] of respect for him," Gray said. "He's made a lot of friends here."
Shatzer has the ability to adapt to unusual situations that come with the terrain. Just two years ago, he found himself integrating air traffic C2 systems at an air base in Honduras that hosted the only airfield between Panama and the southern region of the United States able to accommodate C-5 aircraft. The airfield was manned by a small contingent of Air Force personnel and Spanish-speaking Honduran air traffic controllers.
Because it was a Honduran air base, "we had to adapt to Honduran procedures," Shatzer said. "I had to integrate the communications for both [Honduran and U.S.] controllers. Fortunately, I picked up enough Spanish to get by."
He said the tempo of operations can get out of control, even when stationed in the United States. "The operations tempo wasn't as heavy [in Honduras] as it has been around here lately," said Shatzer, jokingly referring to the grueling 14-hour days spent working on the Air Force's recent Expeditionary Force Experiment 98 exercise, which tested a host of new information technology-based C2 solutions.
But it is the time spent away from home that Shatzer said is the toughest part of his job. "I don't have a lot of time for [personal] fun," Shatzer said. "I enjoy whatever time I can spend with the family."
Shatzer's 12-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son keep him and his wife busy, he said. "We enjoy simple things like putting everybody in the car and [going for a] drive out to the countryside."
However, the periodic uprooting of family, which is common in military life, can take its toll on a family, Shatzer said. It takes 10 to 13 months for the children to adjust to their new surroundings, he said. "The only thing I regret [about military life] is the fact that we haven't had grandparents and other family members [to act as a] support network," he said. "We've had the military as a support network, but that's a different thing."
As he contemplates retirement next year, Shatzer said his biggest responsibility is to try to communicate the benefits of a military career to those who might be thinking of getting out of the service. "What I've seen over the last three or four years is a lot of highly technical people [with] 12 years to 16 years of service choosing to leave," Shatzer said.
He said programs such as the Air Force's EFX 98 will help retention rates by allowing the service to reduce the number of personnel it must send into harm's way or away from home on extended deployments. After all, "most people don't relish the idea of spending 120 days a year away from their families," he said.