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|F-16s at Misawa Air Force Base in Japan.|
From the time she was six years old, Danielle Kangas knew she wanted to spend time in the sky. At first, Kangas dreamed of being an astronaut, but when she was 11 years old she saw something that changed her mind. Kangas watched the Blue Angels fly in the Duluth Air Show. "I had a new dream after that day," Kangas said. "I wanted to be a pilot. I didn't want to watch, I wanted to fly those planes."
ROTC and the Air Force
At the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD), Kangas joined the Air Force ROTC, majored in math, and graduated in 2010. While serving and training in the Air Force, in 2012, she received the Air Education and Training Command Commander’s Trophy for being one of the two most outstanding students in her class.
After taking multiple tests and going through rigorous training, Kangas now flies an F16 as a wing pilot. She is currently on her first assignment, based on the Misawa, Japan Air Force Base, working with the Air Force, Navy and Army as well as the Japanese Air Defense. She's a member of the 14th Fighter Squadron. "We're in the northern part of Japan and I hear we can get 10 feet of snow," she said.
Many of her family members served in the military and that influenced Kangas. Several served in the Air National Guard and her grandfather served in the Marine Corps. "The people in my family have given so much for our country," said Kangas. "That's why it is such an honor to serve in the military and an honor to follow in the footsteps of those who have gone before me."
Like so many, Kangas sees Veterans Day as a time to think about the service, courage, and sacrifice of military personnel. "Everyone stationed at Misawa celebrates Veterans Day, mostly with friends and family," Kangas said. "Most of my squadron recently returned from Afghanistan. They've seen a lot and that makes Veterans Day important. I will be doing some special training off base but I will be with them in spirit that day."
Early Years and UMD
Kangas grew up in Duluth and attended Esko High school, continuing on to UMD. She made friends working at the coffee shop on campus, and enjoyed spending time there. Kangas also recalls Calculus III professor, Chad Pierson, who was always willing to go out of his way to help her. "He was a great teacher, and he always had open office hours if I had questions or needed help," she said.
ROTC faculty member Al Chromy influenced Kangas. He taught her to take pride in every job, no matter how big or small. Kangas said his words still resonate with her, especially when she is doing fairly routine tasks. "I remember stocking water bottles in the canteen. It was the hottest time of the year, and I realized that the job was important. If I didn't stock enough water, people would be hurting."
Take pride in a job, no matter how small, and honor all who served. Danielle Kangas offers important lessons for all of us to remember.
Story by Cheryl Reitan with Ellie Neigebauer October, 2013.
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