An impossible Triad Made Possible


by Chris Lester, SAS Information Technology Manager, Client Systems Deployment and Support (and First Sergeant, United States Air Force Reserve)

I come from a family of slightly above average military participation. Both of my grandfathers (and other members of my extended family) served during World War II. Military service has always been in my blood.

I began active duty in 1989 as a military working dog handler in the Air Force. 2016-10-05-1475690468-697603-doghandler.jpg
I left a year early with the intention of pursuing a college degree and returning as an officer - but life had other plans. I always knew I wanted to return to the reserves, and in 1994 I did. I was again doing what I loved to do - even if only part-time - while also doing what I had to as a civilian in a full-time private sector job.

At the time, I was working as a broadcast announcer where movement is expected and frequent. I relocated with a new radio-related job, and a continued desire to serve my country. This fell apart in just over a year. While I had not even met my annual commitment, "two weeks a year" was proving to be problematic for my then employer. The general manager wanted to get rid of me because of my Reserve duty.

I enjoyed my civilian job, and loved serving my country. But, with a wife and kids to feed I was left with no choice.

I left the Air Force Reserve in 1997.

Ironically, "Corporate Realignment" due to nationwide radio consolidation led to me being let go anyway, just 8 months later.

The instability of radio wasn't for me, or my family. So, I decided to switch gears and pursue a career in Information Technology. While I also wanted to reestablish my Reserve career, I refrained because I assumed most companies would frown upon any military obligations that could take me away from my "real job" - as my previous employer had.

A friend sent me three job postings for a company called SAS, a private software company in Cary, NC. Having been there a year himself, he had nothing but good things to say about his new employer, and thought I'd be a great fit there.

I was hired at SAS in the summer of 1998.  My new career was a blast - I started as a hardware repair technician, quickly adding on responsibilities for new vendor product testing and evolving workplace initiatives.  It was hard to believe that a workplace existed where I could in essence bring my hobby to work every day - and offer real business value to boot. Plus, the benefits were amazing, and my colleagues - including management - were like nothing I'd ever experienced in the workplace.  I still refer to it as that time that "I zigged when I should have zigged." 

Finally Balancing Work, Life and Duty

I needed this (amazing) civilian job, but I had sat on the military sidelines too long. I felt a strong pull to return to the reserves, yet I was still gun shy from the experience with my previous employer. Two of my SAS coworkers (and members of the North Carolina National Guard) assured me that SAS would be supportive of my Reserve duties. This was reassuring, but before I would sit down with a military recruiter, I wanted to let SAS Human Resources know what I was doing and why. The conversation went something like:

SAS HR Manager: "That's fine. And thank you for your desire to serve."
Me: "That's it?"
SAS HR Manager: "I need a copy of your orders if they send you somewhere long term. Otherwise, yes. That's it."

I was floored. Ecstatic. And in the Air Force Reserve recruiter's office the next day.

2016-10-06-1475760852-6675040-tower.jpg Gator Sector, Kirkuk Regional Airbase, Iraq. Photo by Ben Werner

Six months after rejoining, I touched down in Southwest Asia for a Joint Expeditionary Tasking; Air Force Security Forces assigned to the 125th Military Police Battalion. Not only was SAS supportive of my 7-month absence, I received care packages, a really nice welcome home party, a plaque thanking me for my service - and, my job... just as I'd left it.

In 2007, I deployed again - this time to Kirkuk Regional Airbase, Iraq. The care packages continued, and I returned home 8 months later to another cool plaque, another awesome party, and my first daughter - born one month after I had landed in Iraq.

2016-10-06-1475760929-9053182-audrey3.jpg Homecoming at SAS. Photo by John Pochinski.

When I returned from deployment, my lovely little bundle of joy was already in the on-site SAS daycare center.

I'd take off again in July of 2012, to a much less austere location, Incirlik Air Base, Turkey. With many more airmen under my charge, the care packages from my SAS co-workers shifted to them, including powdered Gatorade to mix in our water coolers, helping to fend off the 100+ degree heat on the flight line.

Members of the reserves are encouraged to take care of The Triad: Their family, their civilian employer and the Air Force. I was now lucky enough to work with SAS - an employer that supports its own triad: work, life and duty.

I quickly learned that SAS is committed to - and recognized for - supporting military organizations and veteran employees, as well as committed to hiring veterans, reservists, and members of the National Guard.
Just a few examples include:
  • Pro Patria Award recipient - SAS was honored with the highest state-level award given to a civilian employer by the Employer Support of Guard and Reserve (ESGR), North Carolina Committee, a Department of Defense program. The award recognizes companies for hiring and supporting reservists and members of the National Guard.
  • SAS VETS internship program - SAS Veteran Employment, Training and Support provides valuable work experience for military personnel transitioning into the civilian workforce as a student pursuing a degree in IT.
  • Veteran Recognition - SAS recognizes and thanks employees who have served in the armed services in various ways, including free lunches for veterans, and USO package deliveries in honor of SAS veterans.
  • Partnership with Enable America - SAS partners with this nonprofit group to offer career mentoring for service veterans. This partnership also focuses on Disability Mentoring Day, which offers disability mentoring and career development for wounded warriors and disabled veterans. SAS recently hosted participants who spent one-on-one time with mentors learning about the business and their mentor's role.

SAS was also involved in the creation of The Veterans Freedom Park in Cary, NC where the company is headquartered. The park features a memorial court of service flags and benches leading up to a stunning 90-foot, white granite spire. The five seals from each branch of the military circle the base of the spire, creating an intimate and inviting space for reflection.

Saying Thanks at 40,000 Feet

This summer, I had the opportunity to say thanks to my employer in a very unique way. I arranged for SAS CIO Keith Collins to participate in the ESGR Boss Lift. 2016-10-05-1475690945-1184776-bosslift.jpg
This was a chance for me to invite him to the base, showcase what reservists do, and the missions behind some of those surprise and sometimes inopportune, "Out of Office" emails. Keith attended a mission briefing and then took part in an actual mission aboard a KC-135R "Stratotanker", refueling AWACS aircraft. He still hasn't stopped talking about it.

For me it was the opportunity to put two jobs I love in the same place, at the same time... and maybe even show off a little bit of both.

My parallel careers are strengthened by each other. But, neither of them are possible without the strong support of a tremendous civilian employer like SAS.