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Taking off in a new direction

Airman 1st Class Howie Duong, 48th Operational Support Squadron air traffic controller, watches for aircraft preparing to depart at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 25, 2020. Air traffic controllers are responsible for managing the flow of aircraft through all aspects of their flight and ensuring the safety and efficiency of air traffic on the ground and in the air. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

Airman 1st Class Howie Duong, 48th Operational Support Squadron air traffic controller, watches for aircraft preparing to depart at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 25, 2020. Air traffic controllers are responsible for managing the flow of aircraft through all aspects of their flight and ensuring the safety and efficiency of air traffic on the ground and in the air. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

Airman 1st Class Howie Duong, 48th Operational Support Squadron air traffic controller, surveys runway activity at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 25, 2020. Air traffic control Airmen are highly trained professionals able to make quick decisions, while monitoring many variables to keep bases, airspace and Airmen all over the world safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

Airman 1st Class Howie Duong, 48th Operational Support Squadron air traffic controller, surveys runway activity at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England, Feb. 25, 2020. Air traffic control Airmen are highly trained professionals able to make quick decisions, while monitoring many variables to keep bases, airspace and Airmen all over the world safe. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Jessi Monte)

ROYAL AIR FORCE LAKENHEATH, England --

It’s a tale as old as time. The feeling of being confined to a life you thought you wanted, and now you aren’t so sure; but with a little bit of sacrifice and determination, anyone can chart a new course for themselves.

When he was 29 years old, Airman 1st Class Howie Duong, 48th Operational Support Squadron air traffic controller, decided it was time to start the process of rerouting his own path.

Duong earned a bachelor’s degree in business finance but he didn’t feel passionate about the vocation. Instead, he decided he wanted to give back to the country that had given him and his family so much opportunity.

Duong’s parents immigrated to the United States in the late 1980’s. They started up a successful small, family-owned Chinese restaurant located in Memphis, TN where Duong grew up working.

“My parents had the chance to chase the American dream, and they succeeded,” said Duong. “What better way to be grateful for that than to serve in the United States military.”

The first step in his new journey was accepting a position as an air traffic controller, and so began his career in the U.S. Air Force.

ATC Airmen are highly trained professionals able to make quick decisions, while monitoring many variables to keep bases, airspace and Airmen all over the world safe. They are responsible for managing the flow of aircraft through all aspects of their flight, and ensure the safety and efficiency of air traffic on the ground as well as in the air.

“I really love the job, especially being up in the tower. Getting that 360 degree view. Watching the jets depart and seeing them land. It never gets old,” said Duong. “We are never really finished learning. In this career field there is no way you can train and prepare for everything because every day is different. It’s always changing.”

After two months of Basic Military Training and 72 days of initial technical training, Duong arrived at Royal Air Force Lakenheath, England on September 27, 2018, where he spent an additional year learning his duties under supervision of the 48th OSS to cement his new path as an ATC.

Since his arrival, Duong said his training and leadership have been top-notch. With three fighter squadrons conducting routine operations in support of United States Air Forces in Europe & Air Forces Africa, he said he recognizes the importance of his job, but every airman here is a crucial piece of the puzzle.

“Without everyone else, I wouldn’t have a job to do,” said Duong. “Every career is just another cog in the machine that is the mission here at RAF Lakenheath.”

Now, nearly three years later, Duong has gone from facing a life of crunching numbers in an office, to guiding the fighter pilots of the world’s greatest Air Force into the skies above the United Kingdom.

 “I really love it here. My trainers and everyone in the OSS have made it such a positive experience,” said Duong. “It just couldn’t get any better for me. I am grateful to have this as my first base.”