FGHS graduate named 2012 Air Traffic Controller of the Year

When Forest Grove High School graduate Justin Loranger joined the U.S. Air Force in 2009, he took an unusual approach to figuring out what kind of job he’d train for with the military.

Scanning the list of options, he decided he’d go with the one that was the most difficult: air traffic controller.

“The whole challenge of it kind of drew me in,” said Justin, son of Becky Van Dyke and Raymond Loranger. Now Loranger, a 325th Operational Support Squadron airman at Tyndall Air Force Base near Panama City, Fla., has received the Air Force’s Air Traffic Controller of the Year Award for 2012. It’s a demanding job that has tested his ability to adjust to situations that can shift from peaceful to hectic in seconds. “You’re dealing with weather, pilots — a bunch of unknowns,” he said. “Even a flock of birds can ruin your whole day.”

Paying attention to the smallest details are crucial, he said. Air traffic controllers are constantly monitoring multiple factors for each aircraft, such as its speed, physical characteristics or route. Now imagine juggling those specifics for several planes at once.”If you don’t come across as confident, the pilot won’t trust you,” he said. Building trust must also happen on the ground with your crew, Loranger added.”

You have to be able to trust the person next to you. Basically everyone has each other’s backs.”

Loranger was assigned to the Florida station three years ago, and he quickly knocked out his first certification in six months. His trainer, Staff Sgt. Jamerson Watts, won the Air Traffic Controller of the Year Award in 2011. Loranger paid close attention to Watts’ strict training in an effort to keep the tradition going, he said. Now he passes on what he learned. “I train like I was trained.”

Loranger hopes to make it back to Portland, along with his wife Brandi and children — Malia, 3, and Jackson, 1 — but it might take some time. He’s not sure if he’ll make a long-term career out of the Air Force. Working as an air traffic controller at a commercial airport might be a possibility.

For now, he’s proud that his hard work and dedication has brought recognition to his team.”

It doesn’t just reflect me, it reflects the whole chain of command,” he said.

And he’s especially proud of his family — most notably his wife — who never wavered from supporting him on his challenging path to accomplishment. “Brandi was all about me shooting for everything I wanted,” he said.

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