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USAFE Controller of the Year earns FAM flight

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert
  • 31st Fighter Wing Public Affairs

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Devon Kercher, assigned to the 31st Operations Support Squadron, was not only recently recognized as the 2019 U.S. Air Forces in Europe Air Traffic Controller of the Year, but he was also able to fly in one of the U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcons he works with on a daily basis.

Kercher has been at Aviano for more than three years and is currently a Radar Approach Control senior watch supervisor.

“As air traffic controllers in the RAPCON, we are basically liaisons between the Italian air force and the 31st Fighter Wing,” Kercher said. “We don’t actively control air space; we’re more hands-off and in a supervisory and advisory role.”

Before arriving in Aviano, Kercher was stationed at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas, for three and a half years and had a very different work life, he said.

Along with hosting the T-38 Talon and the T-6 Texan II airframes, Sheppard AFB also hosts the 80th Flying Training Wing as a tenant unit and through their Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program they train 50 percent of all U.S. Air Force fighter pilots.

The 80th FTW launches 50,000 sorties per year and is recognized as the busiest joint-use airfield in the Air Force.

“As a controller [at Sheppard AFB], we would just work, work, work, and then go home because it was such a busy base,” said Kercher. “When I got to Aviano, I was still in that mindset for the first year until I had people [in the unit] start to take an interest in me. Through their mentorship they pushed me to get outside of my comfort zone and do more things like pick up additional duties, volunteer and go to school.”

Although being a RAPCON senior watch supervisor at Aviano has brought him a different operational tempo and a different role, Kercher said he was able to use this as a way to step out and further his career progression opportunities, which lead him to winning this award.

As another step forward in his career, Kercher was the first radar controller to deploy out of Aviano in the last four years, he said.

Though Kercher’s fellow Airmen and coworkers offered motivation, advice, and guidance, his family has also been with him every step of the way, he explained.

“My wife has been my biggest supporter throughout my whole life,” Kercher said. “She always pushed me to do extra things and steers me toward the right direction. I also have a 16-month old, and she is my motivation and why I keep going.”

Before his familiarization flight in the F-16, Kercher said he was both excited and nervous but might gain a different perspective of the aircraft he works alongside every day.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Kercher said. “I might have a little more patience for the pilots after seeing what they actually do in the cockpits with their switches, toggles and lights.”