Controlling the airspace for three generations

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. — Children often admire parents and grandparents for doing great things, which can compel them to follow in their families’ footsteps and strive for greatness. For one Airman here, those footsteps from the past were followed almost exactly, leading to three generations of air traffic controllers.

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Merritt, a 325th Operation Support Squadron radar approach control chief controller, is a third-generation ATC, and the second generation to also serve in that career field while stationed at Tyndall Air Force Base. 

In fact, there has been a Merritt with a mic in his hands talking to airplanes since 1947.

“My grandfather retired as (a Federal Aviation Administration) ATC controller,” Michael said. “He did it for a long time. My father joined the Air Force as a controller, retired as a master sergeant, and went into FAA as a controller.”

Michael didn’t know much about his grandfather’s job as a kid. It wasn’t until he joined the military that he was made fully aware of his grandfather’s career.

“When I was young, I remember a Bring Your Kids to Work Day when my father took me into the tower,” Michael said. “As a youngster, I didn’t really know what I was looking at, I just thought it was cool to look out the windows and see the aircraft.”

His father, William, served more than 20 years in the military. Tyndall AFB was William’s first station, where he obtained his first ATC rating. Now after several years, his son Michael has made his way to Tyndall AFB.

“My dad absolutely thinks it’s cool,” Michael said. “He will tell me about how it was, even when I talk to him today, he will tell me about places I have to visit. There is a certain relation that we have; there is a coolness factor in talking about it and what has changed.”

Joining the Air Force, Michael aspired to join the ATC career. 

“At first, they denied me because of my vision,” he said. “So they gave me another job and I became a loadmaster.”

After seeing a specialist and getting his vision corrected, and spending six years as an AC-130 Spectre gunship loadmaster, Merritt was able to cross-train into ATC. 

“I love my job overall, whether it be as a load master or ATC,” Michael said. “What I enjoy the most is being able to develop my Airmen and NCOs.”