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Controlling the airspace for three generations

William Merritt, a retired Air Force master sergeant, is featured on a past cover of Airman Magazine. He is the father of Michael Merritt, 325th Operation Support Squadron radar approach control chief controller, and the second of three generations of Air Traffic Controllers. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

William Merritt, a retired Air Force master sergeant, is featured on a past cover of Airman Magazine. He is the father of Michael Merritt, 325th Operation Support Squadron radar approach control chief controller, and the second of three generations of Air Traffic Controllers. (U.S. Air Force courtesy photo)

TYNDALL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. --

Children often admire parents and grandparents for doing great things. This sometimes compels them to follow in family footsteps and strive for greatness. For one Tyndall Airman, those footsteps were followed exactly, leading three generations to Air Traffic Control towers.

Senior Master Sgt. Michael Merritt, 325th Operation Support Squadron radar approach control chief controller, is the second generation of Merritts serving as an ATC at Tyndall, and the third generation to be an ATC.

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

"My grandfather retired as an FAA 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," said Michael. "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 following in the family footsteps. Tyndall was William's first station and where he obtained his first ATC rating. Now after several years, his son Michael has made his way to Tyndall.

"My dad absolutely thinks it's cool," said Michael. "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 load master."

After seeing a specialist and getting his vision corrected, and spending 6 years as an AC-130 gunship load master, 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 Airman and NCOs.