As we commemorate Veteran’s Day on Thursday, Nov. 11, we want to acknowledge the many military veterans among us here at Atlas Air.
We are grateful to Tom Killian, Senior Director of Cargo Services; Althea Arvin, Senior Director of Materials Management; and First Officer David Evangelista for sharing their stories with us. We thank them – and all who have served – for their dedication to our nation.
Tom Killian, Senior Director, Cargo Services
Technical Sergeant, U.S. Air Force (1986-1994)
For Tom, Veteran’s Day is an opportunity to reconnect with the airmen who became his family over the course of several months in 1991, when he was a boom operator on a KC-135 during the Gulf War.
“We had a hard crew – that means we flew as the same crew the entire war,” Tom said. “We flew together; we ate together; we lived in the same building together. We were together literally 24/7 for months. So, I become very close to those folks. On Veteran’s Day, we all talk or send a text to one another and wish each other a good day.”
Tom entered the Air Force in 1986, serving for eight years. After a brief stint as a U-2 aircraft mechanic at Beale Air Force Base in northern California, he applied to cross train in in-flight refueling, managing the delicate operation of safely connecting a tanker with another aircraft at altitudes up to 35,000 feet in order to refuel.
He taught in-flight refueling as an instructor on the KC-10 as part of the 79th Air Refueling Squadron, and when he was deployed to Kuwait for the Gulf War, he operated the inflight fueling boom on the KC-135 Stratotanker. The mission was intense, but the bonds he formed with the other crew members have endured.
For their efforts, Tom and the other members of the crew received the Air Medal, which is awarded for heroic or meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight. They each also received the Kuwaiti Liberation Medal from the government of Kuwait.
As Senior Director of Cargo Services at Atlas, Tom’s work keeps him on the ground. But during his time in the Air Force, he earned his commercial pilot’s license through the Aero Club. When he left active duty, in 1994, he flew crop dusters over rice fields and orchards in California and cotton and peanuts fields in Georgia. In the off-season, he worked as a ground instructor at various airlines.
In 2007, Tom joined Southern Air and, in 2017, Atlas Air, where veterans are well-represented among the workforce – a fact that he appreciates.
“There are a lot of veterans here,” said Tom, who developed his love of aviation sitting in the cockpit of his father’s plane as a child in Northern California. “For me, it goes back to the camaraderie. Because of the commonalities we have – that we have served, and we have similar experiences – we are connected.”
Tom said he doesn’t expect or seek acknowledgment for himself on Veteran’s Day. Instead, he said, he hopes others will remember the sacrifices of those who didn’t make it home.
“I think it’s important that people talk to their children about Veteran’s Day,” he said. “It’s important to try to help them understand that (fallen servicemen and women) paid the price for our freedom, so we can live the lives we live now.”
Althea Arvin, Senior Director, Materials Management
Major, U.S. Air Force (1995-2007)
Military service flows through Althea Arvin’s bloodline. Her father and uncles were active-duty Air Force pilots.
Her own distinguished military career spanned 12 years as a commanding officer overseeing the work of aircraft and armament mechanics in Air Force maintenance shops. She served in Operation Enduring Freedom, where she was in charge of the operation to support and maintain tankers at the Al Dhafra Air Base in Abu Dhabi, UAE.
The tradition continues with two of her sons, who currently serve in the Army. Her oldest son, August, is a nodal systems technician at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. Her younger son, Benjamin, is a track vehicle mechanic at Fort Hood in Texas.
“There is a long-standing history of military service in my family,” said Althea, who joined Atlas Air as Senior Director, Materials Management, in October 2021. “(August and Ben) are aware of their heritage of older generations of family members having served in World War II and the Vietnam War. It’s a proud family history, and I think they feel that they are carrying it out. I am certainly proud of them.”
Althea spent most of her high school years in England, where her father was stationed as an Air Force fighter pilot, flying in the back seat of F-4s and F-111s.
Althea graduated from University of Kentucky in 1995 as a distinguished ROTC graduate, which meant she had her first choice of career paths. Her dream had been to become a pilot herself, but a back injury in her youth took that option away. So, she decided to pursue the path that would still keep her close to the planes she loved – aircraft maintenance.
Althea said her military service forms an important part of her identity.
“Military life and service and being around that environment made me more curious about service and leadership and wanting to take care of people,” she said. “What really makes the military experience great is not just the service to the military, but the service to each other – your brothers and sisters in arms. I think about how rewarding that experience was for me and the relationships I got to experience and the type of people I served with.”
Althea said Veteran’s Day is a chance to reflect on those relationships and to honor those who have given their lives for their nation.
“I think about the people who didn’t come home,” she said. “I will never forget their sacrifice. I have served with people who were lost. I have friends who have lost loved ones. I think about them other times of the year, but especially on Veteran’s Day.”
First Officer David Evangelista
E-3, U.S. Navy (January 2008- October 2011)
Originally from Brazil, First Officer David Evangelista takes particular pride in serving the nation that he calls “the best country in the world.”
David served for nearly four years in the U.S. Navy. But his sense of duty has extended beyond his military career. In August, he volunteered for Atlas Air’s Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) mission to support the evacuation of Afghanistan.
“Being an immigrant myself and seeing what some people have to go through, and what they expect coming in to a country like the United States, it’s overwhelming,” he said following a flight to bring passengers to Dulles International Airport (IAD). “The United States is going to be a place where they can restart.”
David served in the Navy for nearly three years and went on to graduate from Broward College with a degree in Aeronautics/Aviation/Aerospace Science and Technology in 2013. In 2014, he obtained his commercial pilot’s license.
He flew for Simmons Aviation, American Aviation AB Jets and Republic Airways prior to joining Atlas Air in January 2020.
“I was excited to be a part of (the CRAF mission),” said David, who flies as a First Officer on 747s and is based in Miami. “I was in the United States Navy myself, so I felt like I served a second time and (did) something for the greater good of America.”