Most Airmen in the Air National Guard have to juggle two careers. A call to duty may take them away from their home and civilian career at any time. First Lt. Ben Ortiz is a pilot with the 106th Air Refueling Squadron in Birmingham and a systems engineer for Delta Airlines in Atlanta. Ortiz willingly stepped up for a volunteer opportunity that a fellow Airmen and co-worker at Delta would miss because of an activation.
Ortiz put on his military flight suit and spoke about his career in the military to students in kindergarten through second grade at KIPP WAYS Primary School in downtown Atlanta.
“A lot of kids don’t know about the military and it is hard to get military speakers to go to speak with children that age because they are so far away from enlisting,” said Ortiz. “I wanted to make sure they knew about being an aviator and it was achievable for them to be one.”
During Valentine’s week this year the school initiated a program called “Love Week.” One of the purposes of the program is to teach the students that they can do something without receiving anything in return. Part of its aim is to help students in a competitive world by instilling in each scholar a commitment to excellence, perseverance, teamwork and love according to the charter school’s website.
“We wanted to introduce them to ‘community helpers,’” said Gabrielle Newton, Director of Parent Relationship and School Branding, KIPP WAYS Primary School. “People that do a lot for their neighborhoods and the country that aren’t necessarily out in the open and expose them to these professions.”
The school was able to bring in volunteers from career fields serving their communities such as doctors, nurses and firefighters to discuss their jobs with the students. The goal of the interactions was to get the students to think about and interested in some of these professions.
Ortiz brought in a model KC-135 airplane to help the students learn about air refueling. It gave them something that they could see to convey the capabilities of the aircraft and his mission as a pilot.
“They all wanted to touch it,” said Ortiz. “It made my message more relatable because I could show them the different parts of the aircraft and how those parts are used to refuel another aircraft.”
He was able to give his knowledge about life in the military. Everyone’s interest piqued when he told them about his mission as a pilot in an air refueling squadron.
“They didn’t know a plane can be refueled in the air,” said Ortiz. “Not only did the students ask questions but the teachers started asking questions as well.”
He estimated that the teachers asked approximately 30 percent of the questions during his presentation.
It brought life to some of the things that the students had seen on television or read in books about the military. Some of their questions about uniforms and equipment were answered.
“I have never seen kids so intrigued by something,” said Newton. “He was animated in his message, came prepared and the kids loved him. He was phenomenal.”
Ortiz left the school wanting to do more and is trying to approve a field trip inside Delta’s technical operations center to further their interest in being an aviator. It will be a challenge to bring more than 100 students into a fast-paced work environment. He is also looking in to the possibility of a tour of the Delta Flight Museum.