Tag Archives: Air Force

Vets in Business

September 18, 2018 by

Whenever I think about the veterans I know who have started businesses after leaving the military, I reflect on the leadership qualities they learned and bring with them to the workplace. Honesty, responsibility, respect—yes, these are important values. But the best quality of them all, the one that uplifts and inspires me the most, is their extreme sense of honor. 

Having a sense of honor feels like an ancient thing, a deep and noble thing. When life is full of extreme trials and devastations, honorable people rise above the rest and stay focused on what is excellent. Others might give up or give in, succumb to rationalizations and workarounds, but those with a sense of honor have a strong appreciation of the good and the right, and they intentionally choose to live by their moral principles.

Notice, then, that the key to honor is as much about resolve and willpower as it is about having specific moral principles front of mind. Honor is an action word. Without consistent, calm, clear follow-through, a sense of honor is hollow.

When I visualize an honorable person, I think of an archer, focused on a bullseye, bow pulled taut
with an arrow ready for release. Years of dedication and practice enable the archer to remain cool and composed, shooting the arrow straight and true. Yes, for me, a sense of honor is acquired over time and through experience. 

These days, I think I have a pretty good ability to pick out businesspeople who are, or have been, in the military. I pick up on their sense of honor. When I recently met Richard Messina, owner of Play It Again Sports, his demeanor and description of how and why he runs his business exemplified his sense of honor. He could, so easily, buy used sports equipment for pennies for what they are worth and resell them for much more than they are worth. But his sense of honor directs him. He sees himself and his business as a part of the community and, so, unfair business practices are not acceptable. Rich was in the Air Force for 17 years. His aim is straight and true. 

To Rich and all Omaha vets: I admire your sense of honor and, in this, I want to be just like you.


This column was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Beverly Kracher, Ph.D., is the executive director of the Business Ethics Alliance and the Daugherty Chair in Business Ethics and Society at Creighton University.

The Right Stuff

September 17, 2018 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Raymond Page can trace his family’s military history to the Civil War and the 7th Pennsylvania Cavalry Regiment. Family members fought in World War I. His namesake grandfather survived a bullet wound after being shot on the beaches of Normandy during World War II.

Such a deep legacy of service may explain why, shortly after entering a university close to his rural northern Pennsylvania home, Page decided he wasn’t cut out for college. 

In 1988, at age 18, Page opted to follow his father and two older brothers into the U.S. Air Force. Another kind of education kicked in immediately at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue. 

“My first career was a radio operator, because I’ve always been into electronics,” says Page, 49. “Eventually I transitioned into meteorology and went to forecasting school. Offutt has the [Air Force Weather Agency] here, so it’s a job-rich environment.”

After ending his Air Force career as a major in 2014 after 26 years in the service, Page contemplated life as a civilian.

As he fielded several opportunities before accepting a position at Mutual of Omaha, Page discovered the reason transitions to the private sector run smoothly here: Omaha businesses need, actively recruit, and above all value veterans. 

Why?

“A better question is, why wouldn’t they want to hire a veteran?” observes Jeffrey Owens, vice president of Security Operations at First Data in Omaha and a Marine Corps veteran who enlisted during the Gulf War. “These young people trained, at a very young age, how to be leader[s], how to make decisions under high stress situations.”

The unemployment rate of post-9/11 veterans keeps trending down.  According to the latest numbers from the U.S. Labor Department, it stands at 3.3 percent nationwide. Still, many companies wonder why the number of employees with military experience isn’t higher, considering all the recruitment programs in place. 

The glitch may lie at the other end of the equation. 

“One of the scariest things for military people transitioning is there’s not a direct correlation of jobs [in the private sector],” says Page, echoing the thoughts of many veterans who may wonder, “Where do my skills fit in?” 

Page put his skills to the test in two war zones, Afghanistan and Iraq. During the Iraqi invasion in 2003, his weather detachment forecasted a monster three-day sandstorm, putting Army leaders in a position to keep their troops safe and hunkered down. 

“Even though I was a weather officer, I had a lot of experience in computer programming,” says Page, who lives in Bellevue with his wife and two children. “Military people, especially Air Force people, are wired to adapt quickly as we move from job to job. We show initiative.”

Owens, who also spent 14 years as a detective with the Atlanta Police Department, can’t speak highly enough of the qualities he observes every day in his employees. ”All the veterans I’ve had the opportunity to manage have exhibited loyalty, hard work, and they have a history and tradition built into them. Why wouldn’t you want those assets?”

Along with a lack of a business network, self-marketing may be a problem with many veterans. Military service focuses on the collective, making it difficult for a veteran to distinguish him-or-herself from the group, which is often an essential part of interviewing.

But that emphasis on the collective means many former service members will appreciate company values, missions, and visions.

First Data, founded in Omaha 47 years ago and now the world’s largest payment processor, reaches out to veterans through its First Data Salutes program. The company offers career opportunities and education resources for military personnel and their spouses; provides point-of-sale and business application technology free of charge to veteran-owned small businesses; and, like many local businesses, grants flex time to members of the National Guard or Reserves.

“What the company says to them is, ‘Hey, your job will be here when you get back.’ That gives them comfort and security while they’re [deployed],” says Owens.

First Data’s efforts on behalf of veterans, who made up 14.4 percent of the company’s Omaha hires last year, have won accolades. Military Times magazine has ranked the company No. 1 on its annual “Best for Vets: Employers” list the past two years, an honor “that cannot be bought, only earned,” according to the magazine’s editor. The rigorous survey, sent to 2,300 companies nationwide, contains 90 questions that companies must fill out and return. 

Page’s computer and leadership abilities caught the interest of Mutual of Omaha when the company hosted meet-up groups of software developers. Since joining the insurance company four years ago, he has thrived as an information systems manager. 

He has also positioned himself as a trusted adviser for Mutual’s military initiative, the Veterans Employee Resource Board. The group, in conjunction with the HR department, provides mentoring and assistance to people coming out of the service. Quarterly meetings focus on developing business knowledge and honing leadership skills. Members join their fellow Mutual employees in volunteering for community projects several times a year.

Page and other VERB members offer a bridge of understanding when it comes to the language of a veteran recruit’s skill set. 

“We also work with managers to help them decipher resumes,” Page points out. “What military people put on a resume is different from a civilian’s resume. I help interpret.”

Page realizes a lack of connections forms the biggest roadblock to people exiting the military. “I tell people to start networking, start visiting companies before they leave the service. Companies love talking to military men and women.”

Here in the Midlands, that’s sound advice.


Visit firstdata.com or mutualofomaha.com for more information.

This article was printed in the October/November 2018 edition of B2B. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

Jeffrey Owens

Omaha’s Korean Connection

June 7, 2017 by
Photography by Joshua Foo

Korean restaurants in Omaha have strong ties to the military community.

While many Offutt Air Force Base staffers developed penchants for Korean cuisine during Air Force deployments to South Korea, there are also many military spouses who relocated to Omaha from Korea. Some of these spouses have opened local restaurants.

The Korean Grill is a prime example. Its owner, Henim Stimson, used to operate a restaurant in Seoul. Her husband, Air Force veteran Scott Stimson, now helps her in the kitchen at 1408 Harlan Drive in Bellevue.

They often serve couples with similar U.S. military and Korean backgrounds.

While eating dinner recently at the Korean Grill, Cody Scott (an active-duty Air Force veteran) and his wife, Gi (who is originally from Tongyeong, South Korea), share their suggestions for finding authentic Korean food in the greater Omaha metro.

Cody grew up in Tennessee, and he studied Korean in California. The couple met after Cody relocated to Omaha. “We met at Maru Sushi and Korean Grill. Gi was working there as a waitress,” Cody says. They married in 2013 and reside in Bellevue.

The Scotts listed the Korean Grill as their favorite in Omaha. The restaurant’s lunch combo meals and to-go boxes attract a lot of military personnel and many Chinese students from nearby Bellevue University.

Suji’s offers a wide variety of dishes.

Eating Like a Korean

Korean meals are typically served with a variety of “banchan” (side dishes) in small portions. All banchan is communal. Featuring a wide range of seasonal vegetables, roots, tofu, or small seafood, banchan can be fermented, pickled, lightly seasoned, or braised in sauce. Kimchi, fermented napa cabbage, is the most common type of banchan.

While many associate Korean food with Korean barbecue—thinly sliced meat dishes (both marinated and unmarinated) and vegetables cooked on a built-in table grill or a portable grill—rice, noodles, soup, and stew remain staples of Korean cuisine.

One of the most iconic offerings in Korean cuisine, “budae-jjigae” (army stew), is a spicy soup with Spam meat, hot dogs (or other scraps of meat), tofu, instant noodles, mixed vegetables, and sometimes a piece of Kraft cheese.

The Scotts order budae-jjigae and several of their other favorites while speaking with Omaha Magazine. The stew comes in a huge portion, best suited for two to share.

“Army stew” is an invention of South Koreans after the Korean War. As food shortages persisted, locals scrambled up surplus processed meats from the U.S. military and cooked them in a spicy soup with kimchi. Its standard ingredient—Spam meat—is beloved in South Korea. During Lunar New Year, the pork product is often packaged in a fancy box and given away as a gift.

“Gimbap” (Korean sushi) is another of the Scotts’ favorites. Gi explains the dish is akin to Korean takeout food; they would eat it on the go or at picnics. Unlike its Japanese cousin, the rice in gimbap is not seasoned with vinegar but salt and sesame oil. It does not require dipping in soy sauce or wasabi. To prevent leftover gimbap from drying out overnight, Gi suggests leaving the sushi rolls on the counter instead of in the refrigerator.

“Japchae” (a sweet potato starch noodle stir-fry) is another beloved Korean dish. Although usually served as a side dish, japchae can also be a stand-alone dish eaten with rice.

Korean Restaurants Around Town

First-timers to Korean food should take a quick crash course at Korean Grill. You will find a selection of assorted dishes displayed in a food-warmer cabinet; the owner readily offers honest advice and a generous portion to guarantee a good dining experience.

Cody recommends ordering “galbitang”—a clear soup with beef short ribs—and “doenjang-jjigae”—a spicy (if made traditionally), fermented soybean paste stew. Korean Grill offers three other famous dishes—“sundae,” a Korean-style blood sausage; “kkori gomtang,” an oxtail soup; and “jokbal,” a steamed pig feet dish. Those items are “hidden from the menu,” so diners must order in advance for such delicacies.

Gi’s top three picks for Korean eateries are Korean Grill, Korea King, and Maru. Rather than ordering soup, her go-to dishes usually contain some seafood, such as octopus.

Korea King offers communal family-style Korean food. The chef there used to work at Maru. “Their ‘ojingeo-bokkeum’ [spicy stir-fried squid], ‘kkori gomtang’ [oxtail soup] and ‘chicken bulgogi’ [bulgogi is a grilled meat dish] are good,” Gi says. “Maru, on the other hand, serves personal-size dishes. I like their chicken bulgogi, ‘jjamppong’ [Korean spicy seafood noodle soup], and ‘jajangmyeon’ [Korean black bean sauce noodles].”

“Go to Korean Grill for soup; go to Korean House Restaurant for grilled meat,” Cody advises. Korean House Restaurant is located right outside of Offutt Air Force Base and is known for its great prices. Cody recommends its grilled beef. You can also find Korean street food “tteok-bokki” (spicy Korean rice cake stir-fry) there. The restaurant is open Monday through Friday from 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. and between 5 and 8 p.m.

Suji’s Korean Grill has recently reinvented its entire menu and introduced Korean built-in table grills to the Aksarben area. Cody says he has not been to the restaurant since its updates, but he used to enjoy the “Chipotle-style” Korean food Suji’s offered.

The 2.0 version of Suji’s is booming with business. On any given weeknight, a steady stream of diners awaits to feast on its $35-per-person endless Korean barbecue, which begins with a platter of high-quality fresh meats, including rib-eye, chicken breast, pork belly, flank steak, pork jowl, and brisket; complemented with a steamed egg dish, banchan, and bowls of rice. A picture of the meal on social media will guarantee meat envy.

In Ralston, you will find authentic Korean food at Korea Garden. Its banchan is all house-made and tastes delicious. Although the Scotts had not tried Korea Garden at the time of our interview, I highly recommend an order of the “nakji bokkeum” (stir-fried baby octopus) at Korea Garden.

Local Korean Eats

Korean Grill
1408 Harlan Drive
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-933-5150

Korean House Restaurant
2413 Lincoln Road
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-291-3900

Korea King
4719 S. 96th St.
Omaha, NE 68127
402-593-6568

Korea Garden Restaurant
5352 S. 72nd St.
Ralston, NE 6812
402-505-4089

Maru Korean & Sushi Restaurant
5032 S. 108th St.
Omaha, NE 68137
402-593-0717

Suji’s Korean Grill
1303 S. 72nd St., No. 101
Omaha, NE 68124
402-884-7500

This article was printed in the May/June 2017 edition of Omaha Magazine.

A selection of dishes from Suji’s.

Clara Sue Arnsdorff

June 9, 2016 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

When Clara Sue Arnsdorff, 73, moved to Bellevue with her Air Force family (husband Gordon, son John, and daughter Susan) in the late ’70s, many things in what seemed like just another short-term assignment turned out to be key ingredients for a sweet life.

“The Air Force sent my husband’s whole unit here in 1977, and we have been here ever since,” Arnsdorff says. “We loved the area. Good schools, kids were settled nicely, so we stayed until my husband retired. Both kids attended Hastings College and got excellent educations. All because we moved here.”

It’s funny how helping out becomes habitual for some folks. When the Arnsdorff family was still new to Bellevue, it was the younger members who set the stage for their mom’s backstage life promoting the Bellevue Little Theatre.

BellevueLittleTheater2“I blame that on our kids. When they were 7 and 9, there was an open audition at the Bellevue Little Theater for the first of a series of family shows to be done there, ‘The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,’” Arnsdorff says. “Both kids auditioned, and our daughter was chosen. I had absolutely no idea that some 35 years later I would still be so involved.”

The next year, Arnsdorff’s son John, then age 10, was cast in “Oliver,” then “Cheaper by the Dozen.”

“The list continued for some time. I guess I became a familiar face down there. When the publicity person moved on, I was asked to take over the job,” Arnsdorff recalls wistfully about the amount of time and effort that went into spreading the word in the ’80s. “Back then, all the info had to be mailed to the newspapers, radio, and TV stations, and I used our old Apple to type that up, print it, and mail it.”

It didn’t take long for Arnsdorff to become a permanent part of the Bellevue Little Theatre team.

“After a couple of years, I was asked to be on the board of directors, and I have been active there ever since,” Arnsdorff says. “I have been corresponding secretary for about the last 10 years…and I must say that the job actually involves much more than ‘corresponding.’”

As co-chair of the play and director selection committee, Arnsdorff is tasked with reading and selecting the plays and musicals to be staged at the Bellevue Little Theatre. She even invites the directors for each show.

Arnsdorff says her life in theater has taught her about patience, empathy, and understanding.

“As you get older, I think you appreciate more the everyday struggles of families and working moms. Raising kids is a full time job. I was fortunate that I was a stay-at-home mom, but that luxury is fast disappearing,” Arnsdorff says. “Volunteering has helped me to be more empathetic. It reminds me that we have to be patient with volunteers. It’s hard sometimes. Many expect volunteers to be experts at their jobs, but it doesn’t work like that. We have to share ideas, be ready to admit errors, and move on to make things better. We have to listen, but be open…that is hard.”

Visit bellevuelittletheatre.com for more info.

BellevueLittleTheater1

Green Beans Coffee

August 11, 2015 by

This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.

You can tell there’s something different about Green Beans Coffee when you walk in.

The west Omaha store, open since April, is devoid of the two-person tables and fancy French presses. Green Beans is spacious, not cramped. It has comfy couches and a children’s play area.

But it’s not until you reach the counter and notice the American flag paintings and pictures of people in camouflage that you realize this is more than just a coffee shop.

Green Beans Omaha manager John Sievers served in the Air Force for 26 years, traveling all over the world as a meteorologist. While on assignment in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, Sievers was first introduced to Green Beans Coffee Company.

Founded by Jason and Jon Araghi in 1997, Green Beans opened its first cafe in a Saudi Arabian furniture store. Military personnel began to frequent the shop, and Green Beans started opening stores wherever they could in combat zones, converting shipping containers into coffee cafes if necessary. The company also created a program called Cup of Joe, where customers could buy a cup of coffee and send a letter to a service member.

When Sievers retired from the Air Force last year, he had no idea what he wanted to do, but Green Beans’ coffee was already running through his veins.

“I started thinking deeply about what I really enjoyed about the military, and my number one thing was serving my country and the people who fight for our freedom,” says Sievers.

Green Beans popped in his head one day, and Sievers began to wonder if the company had cafes in the United States.

On a whim Sievers applied for a license to start his own Green Beans cafe. His request came back approved, and suddenly Sievers had a business to open.

“When he first told us, I didn’t think it would actually happen, so after he started doing all of the business plans, I got really excited,” says Sievers now-18-year-old daughter, Kirstyn, a shift leader at Green Beans. With the help of his wife Angela, and his three children, Sievers began making his Green Beans shop, a place “where community happens,” a reality.

But the transition from military member to small business owner wasn’t the easiest. He still uses the same documentation and long book system at Green Beans that he learned in the Air Force, but he’s also learned to break away from the military’s rigid structure and embrace flexibility.

“Sometimes he’s almost too nice,” assistant manager Jenn Reed says with a laugh. “But he’s really let me take control, which I really like.”

For Sievers, taking a leap of faith like handing the management reins over to an employee is all part of the process to truly make his store a place where community happens.

“What we stand for—helping the military, the Cup of Joe program—that stuff is the reason why I do this,” says Sievers. “If I don’t make a penny off of this, but I get heavily involved in the community and be a part of helping our nation’s heroes, then at the end of the day I’ve met my goals.”

Green Beans

Out of the Red

July 7, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article appears in Summer 2015 B2B.

Nuns get a bad rap in Hollywood.

“The image is we’re fluffy and don’t have a brain in our head, like The Flying Nun,” says Maryanne Stevens, RSM, Ph.D., president of College of Saint Mary.

Yet nuns are CEOs at Catholic hospitals and small private colleges like the one she leads in Omaha.

No one would ever call Stevens fluffy. When she first arrived in 1996, College of Saint Mary was struggling financially. Now the school’s balance sheet shows no debt.

Stevens has business acumen, says Richard Jeffries, chairman of the college’s board of directors. “During the time Maryanne has been our president, she has put the college on a very sound financial footing,” says Jeffries, partner with Cline Williams Wright Johnson & Oldfather. “At one point the college had mortgaged its land and carried substantial debt. Today we’re debt-free and able to operate on the tuition revenue our enrollment generates.”

His co-chair, Kate Dodge, president of NEI Global Relocation, agrees: “Along with being a strong intellectual with a deep spiritual background, she brings an important business perspective to her position as president of CSM. Dr. Stevens is key in the critical fundraising for the university.”

Stevens’ first sight when walking on campus 18 years ago was a lawn made up of weeds. She saw the straggly lawn as a deterrent to enrollment. “Curb appeal is essential to attracting students.”

She realized campus buildings also needed attention when she walked into an office that had a broken window and no air conditioning.

Fast forward to 2015. Construction on a new residence hall for single mothers, a student commons, and two buildings have proceeded without debt collectors lurking at the college doors. Construction financing is all backed by pledges from donors.

Under Stevens’ leadership, innovative programs were developed, including a special residence hall allowing college-age single mothers to live with their children on campus.

“I got the idea in 2000 when a student living in the hall told me she was pregnant and didn’t know how she could finish her education unless she brought her infant to the residence hall,” says Stevens. “The first year, there were eight mothers with their children. Now there are 35.”

Stevens also launched Marie Curie science and math scholarships funded by the National Science Foundation for women and began an unusual online doctoral program for educators in the health professions.

A unique physician assistant program allows students to start as a college freshman and attend for five years. “That can save students a significant amount of money,” says Stevens. “One of my big concerns is how to make post-secondary education affordable.”

Stevens raises about $1 million a year to support scholarships and athletics in addition to capital fundraising. College of Saint Mary has solid support from women in the community.

“They see a college for women as a valuable resource for the community, “Stevens says. “People know there’s a number of first-generation college students who thrive in a small, rather than large, environment.”

Born in Anchorage, Alaska, Stevens moved with her Air Force family from southern California to Omaha when she was a high school sophomore. As the oldest of eight children, her future as an educator was foreshadowed.

“We used to play homework after school, and I was the teacher for my younger brothers and sisters,” says Stevens.

She joined the Sisters of Mercy in 1966 as Sister Maryanne after graduating from Mercy High School. After graduation from College Misericordia in Dallas, Pa., she taught high school math in Joplin, Mo. Stevens earned a master’s degree in theology from St. Louis University and a Ph.D. in religion and education from Boston College.

The college president taught theology at Creighton University for 10 years before joining College of Saint Mary.

Jeffries says Stevens is a tenacious fundraiser. “Thanks to her efforts, CSM is now in a position to deliver life-changing education to women well into the future.”

Stevens has great leadership skills, says Dodge. “I learn something from her at each committee or board meeting that I attend. Maryanne is a teacher, a philosopher, and a business woman. She is extraordinary.”

DrMaryanneStevens

Joanna Kingsbury

April 9, 2015 by
Photography by Rogue Icons

Originally published in March/April Encounter.

Joanna Kingsbury, a resident of Omaha for the past three years, has dipped her toes into many creative fields: acting, singing, dancing, and DJ-ing. She recently completed a role as Sarah Trecek, the conservative girlfriend of the main character in the local, independent film, Flyover Country.

But now she seeks to add another line to her resume: Air Force enlistee.

On Jan. 5, Kingsbury took a break from singing, acting, dancing, etc., to train in aerospace physiology in the United States Air Force for the next four years. It’s a career move that seems crazy to most, but on a dreary winter  morning, Kingsbury is eager to explain why it’s a perfect fit for her.

“I love being a contradiction so much,” Kingsbury says with a grin.

While an acting career didn’t pique her interest until high school, she’s always felt at home in the arts. One of six children, Kingsbury hails from a naturally creative family in the Chicago suburbs.

“We’re the kind of family that when we get together, we always do a talent show and do like handstand competitions,” says Kingsbury. “We’re kind of just a goofy, crazy artistic family.”

It’s also family that brought Kingsbury out to Omaha in the first place. Kingsbury’s older brother, also a member of the Air Force and a DJ, lived in Omaha alongside other military members with an interest in the arts. Kingsbury visited her brother’s house in 2010, and was surprised to discover a vibrant underground arts scene in this so-called flyover country.

“I was just like, man, it seems fun in Omaha. My brother’s DJ-ing, they’re doing all these gigs, and he has all of these friends that are doing all of these really cool things,” says Kingsbury.

A year later, Kingsbury decided to take a leap of faith, move out to Omaha from Chicago, and hit the ground running. She joined acting groups on Facebook, formed a cover duet band with a man she met on Craigslist, and eventually landed her role in Flyover Country. 

The film, which examines the friendship between main characters straight Russ and gay Todd, didn’t just conveniently land in Kingsbury’s lap. Although she “blew” her audition for the role of Sarah the first time, the director and producer saw that Kingsbury was passionate about the project, and encouraged her to try out for a second time.

This vote of confidence didn’t keep Kingsbury from being plagued with doubts during filming. It was her first time playing a speaking character on film, a character who was saying “some of the worst things ever” about the LGBT community.  But Kingsbury tried to focus on the fun, rather than the fears, that came with stepping outside of her comfort zone. “I love to push myself,” she says.

Thus, whether it’s DJ-ing late into the night at a club or modeling for pin-up magazines, Kingsbury is enjoying her wild ride. Her journey is about to get even tougher over the next four years, as she will be serving her country among the nation’s finest.

But Kingsbury is adamant that being in the Air Force, where discipline and perseverance are championed, will make her a better actress and singer. Her goal is to make the Air Force Choir, and naturally, she is relishing her unorthodox route.

“I know it sounds totally ludicrous to anyone that wouldn’t be in the military, but you can be in the military and you can pursue artistic things,” says Kingsbury.

encounter4

Peace is His Profession

February 5, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

How many times have moviegoers seen Washington, D.C. destroyed by a wayward nuke/seven-mile-wide comet/giant solar flare/fire-throwing robots/aliens/zombies or renegade paramilitary outfit, only to have a fearless pilot save the day at the last minute? Hollywood, at least since the Cold War, has thrived on channeling Americans’ apocalyptic fears, now more clearly defined since the terrorist attacks of 9/11.

While the causes of the onscreen cataclysmic events may be a little off-kilter, swooping in to rescue officials from the highest levels of government is no fantasy for a select group of pilots at Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, including Major Jon Grossrhode. A member of the 1st Airborne Command & Control Squadron and a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Omaha, Grossrhode (pronounced GROSS-road-ee) flies one of the great wonders of the aeronautical world.

The military calls the highly modified Boeing 747-200 series the E-4B: its project name, Nightwatch. Civilians know it as the “Doomsday Plane,” but Grossrhode isn’t biting.

“Well, some people call it that,” the 34-year old Plattsmouth resident says quietly, clearly not comfortable surrendering the vital importance of Nightwatch to pop culture lingo.

If a worst-case scenario unfolds in Washington, “We will support the President and his national security team, the Secretary of Defense, and the Joint Chiefs,” explains Grossrhode. “The plane has been tested (to withstand) nuclear attacks.” Thus, Nightwatch becomes an airborne command post. Its ability to re-fuel in the air allows the plane to fly for days. The 165,000 pounds of electronics onboard keep the lines of communication open with forces on the ground.

There are actually four E-4Bs that rotate a maintenance schedule, leaving two planes on active duty at any given time. An E-4 is somewhere in the world on alert 24/7, 365 days a year. Since the planes are based at Offutt, Midlanders often look up in the sky, see an E-4 on a training mission between Omaha and Lincoln, and mistake it for its cousin, Air Force One.

Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel (our July/August 2014 Omaha Magazine cover feature), a western Nebraska native and 1971 UNO graduate, already knows the E-4 quite well. He uses it for overseas trips, with Maj. Grossrhode one of three pilots at the controls.

“We’ll fly from Offutt to Andrews (Air Force Base) and he meets us there,” explains Grossrhode. What are the odds (all due respect to Tom Cruise and Top Gun) that two UNO Mavericks would find commonality aboard a plane also manned by a Nebraska-based crew?

“I knew he had gone to UNO, but you just can’t go up to the Secretary of Defense and say, ‘Hey, what’s up? How’s it going?’” says Grossrhode, showing a flash of humor. “His staff introduced me to him.” The two men have since formed a bond, often chatting about Omaha and Offutt.

“[Hagel] comes up to the flight deck, puts on a headset and thanks us every time,” Grossrhode says, adding, “He’s very personable.”

A tour of the E-4B shows a plane short on amenities but huge on technology, with conference rooms, offices, and space for a full complement of media. Hagel’s quarters are spartan compared to the facilities on the President’s plane. He has a bunk bed, several chairs, and a small bathroom with a sink, but no shower, making a 15-hour flight from Beijing to D.C. challenging. Nightwatch can reach a top speed of 602 mph but “with a good tail wind, it can be faster,” says Grossrhode.

The son of a career Air Force dentist and a high school guidance counselor who are both from the Omaha area, Maj. Grossrhode grew up on several bases around the country. He knew early on that he wanted to honor his father’s legacy by becoming an Air Force pilot. He even looks the part of a man entrusted with the Air Force’s last line of defense. Tall and lanky with close-cropped hair, the soft-spoken Grossrhode has to bend his head way down to enter the E-4 cockpit, which is literally covered from top to bottom in switches and doo-dads of all stripes. Already a seasoned pilot by the time he trained on the E-4, Maj. Grossrhode credits his college experience with giving him a solid foundation.

“I wanted to live near my aunts, uncles and cousins, so I chose to go to UNO,” he explains. As a student at the school’s Aviation Institute, a gem of a program but little-known outside aviation circles, Grossrhode trained at Eppley Airfield and earned his private pilot’s license by the time he graduated in 2002. He arrived at Offutt in 2007 after serving as an instructor pilot in Oklahoma.

He has enjoyed every day since he arrived back home seven years ago.

“I’m living my dream,” he says. “I wanted to be a pilot for as long as I can remember, since I was a little boy. I grew up on Air Force bases watching air shows, getting to know the pilots. Now I get to come to work and fly every day.

“And I get paid for it!”

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Q&A: Andy Colley

December 25, 2012 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

A creative from a very young age, Andy Colley tells us how he found his calling in woodworking early and what he most enjoys about about being a craftsman.

Q: How did you first discover your interest in woodworking? When did you decide to pursue it as a career?

A: Originally from Connecticut, I spent my childhood at Air Force bases in Japan, Hawaii, and the upper East Coast. I settled in Omaha about the time I entered high school. Throughout my youth, creativity in many forms had been an outlet, but never woodwork. Unsure of my future path after graduating, I started an entry-level position at a production cabinet shop. Within a few weeks, I was operating a production saw and then moved on to a bench, becoming a custom builder. After working at a couple shops in town, I started my own company. Ironically, a year later, I talked with an uncle who I hadn’t contacted in years and was told woodworking ran deep in my Connecticut roots.20 November 2012- Andy Colley is photographed at his studio for Omaha Magazine.

Q: How has your craft and your studio progressed over the years?

A: Colley Furniture has been through many changes in 12 years. As I develop and hone my skills, my work evolves…an endless pursuit for a craftsman. With this growth have come increasing budgets as well as complexity of projects. I’ve been involved with projects from coast to coast and collaborated with many great artists, architects, and designers constantly trying to push our expectations of furniture. Located in Benson for 10 years, I moved downtown last summer. For the first time, the shop now has a showroom and a storefront.20 November 2012- Andy Colley is photographed at his studio for Omaha Magazine.

Q: Describe your approach to furniture design. What sets your furniture apart from other work out there?

A:  Typically, materials dictate the design of my work. I am fortunate as an artist to work in a medium that presents me with a great base to start. Every single piece of wood in my shop is unique in color, grain characteristics, and mechanical properties, from large slabs of walnut to slivers of highly figured maple. All of these attributes guide the way in which that particular piece is utilized. A certain piece [of wood] might look better, but it might not have the characteristics you need for that component. Humility and respect are rewarded. Use of hand tools and joinery in construction intensify the relationship to wood and provide otherwise unobtainable strength and longevity to [pieces]. Many times the most complicated, most time-consuming parts are hidden from view. Some bakers rely on fancy, over-the-top frosting; others devote their attention to a more refined use of ingredients and methods. My intention is always to reveal and share the beauty of the wood without interference from design.20 November 2012- Andy Colley is photographed at his studio for Omaha Magazine.

Q: What do you most enjoy about your work? What message do you hope your pieces convey?

A: One of my goals is to show people that furniture can be so much more than disposable, uninspired places to sit or set things on. It can be something so much more—from Grandma’s favorite rocking chair to your parents’ dining set that has been a gathering place for so many occasions and emotions—[furniture] can be very personal. It can have a positive effect on our lives, and when we respect the resources we use, we have a positive effect in this world. Inspiration surrounds us. The more aware we become of the world, the more we can understand and appreciate every aspect of life.

Q: What are your professional plans moving forward?

A: [The studio] is planning to show artists of all mediums here, with a focus on process…bridging the gap between an artist’s conception of a work and an art patron’s purchase of a finished piece. Face-to-face events, such as workshops, presentations, and even small dinner parties are in the works to help achieve this. Retirement is not a part of my plans, as creating is essential to my being. Art is life, life is art.