TRAVIS AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The old adage goes ‘It takes a village to raise a child,’ and the same is true of cultivating the defense of a nation. While less than 1 percent of the population ever serve in the military, the success of the Department of Defense is contingent on the support of the remaining 99 percent of Americans. Military advocacy comes in all shapes and sizes; however, for some, supporting the armed forces isn’t philanthropy, it's a lifestyle. For one such citizen, Sandy Person, every day is an opportunity to aid her ‘heroes.’
“I am not like a lot of the people that I wanted to emulate. I slip up and I swear and I say words wrong... I just do better when it's authentic,” she said with a laugh. “When I hear something that’s intriguing to me, I’m the gal who raises her hand and says, ‘Oh, I’m in.’ And I have no idea what I signed up for, or what it's about, but that has done me very well.”
Person is the industry engagement officer for the Solano Economic Development Corporation. She served as president of the Travis Community Consortium, a regional association of businesses and affiliated governments advocating long-term sustainability at Travis AFB, for six years. She was also the chair of the Travis Regional Armed Forces Committee, a support organization to the base, for two years and she transitioned from an Air Mobility Command-level civic leader to an Air Force-level civic leader in 2018. Her individual efforts and advocacy of Team Travis have never slowed down.
Person reflected, somewhat wistfully, on her first taste of military culture. She became acquainted with some Navy pilots in her hometown of San Diego in the early 80s. She was awed by what they did and wanted to serve, as well, but was past the age to enlist. Fortunately, the stars aligned for her in 1984. At that time, a colleague offered her the opportunity to teach overseas when the Navy and Marines began recruiting real estate instructors.
“Literally two months from that day, I was flying on a plane to the Middle East for six months for a deployment,” said the daughter of a Korean War veteran. “I had not really had experience with the military. Suddenly, I am now in the world of the Navy and it was ‘wow’... It was the joy of the people serving, and it was evident from the get go because, you know, we are a volunteer service, and you've got that sense of pride and that servitude heart. I was mesmerized by it.”
Fast forward two decades, Person became an Honorary Commander at Travis with the 15th Air Mobility Operations Squadron in 2007. Getting a glimpse of operations only fueled her desire to contribute. Subsequently, she stepped into the role of AMC civic leader in 2012 and pinned on as Air Force civic leader in 2018. With a broad smile, she gushes about how moving through the ranks of this role was revelatory.
“Big Air Force, big responsibility. The seriousness to what we represent, it is humbling because I need to grow and understand, and that's the whole message. It's never about an isolated endeavor. It's really about the big ecosystem of need,” Person explained. “The Air Force is complex. So, my eyes are more open, and that curiosity is getting fed all the more and I want to share the message. Particularly, that we need to be better advocates. We need to have our voices heard with our leaders here, not just in the city and county level, but at the state and federal level.”
Person is no stranger to wearing many hats in support of numerous military advocacy organizations and events. However, she believes supporting the Air Force means more than just showing up.
“When you know better, you do better,” she declared. “I don't think we've unearthed a tenth of the things that we could do. It just takes a little rolling up sleeves, paying attention and asking the questions.
“It bothers me that people are so intimidated because they want to sound intelligent. Well, guess what? I sound like an idiot - a lot - but I learn every time I ask the question and I'm not fearful of doing that. I'm trying to focus more on the things that deepen my knowledge so that I can be a better advocate and not just talk at a superficial level. I feel like I can be a voice of that change and that's part of my responsibility of being a good citizen. I love my country.”
Impassioned and gleaming, Person elaborated on her belief in actions over words, or as she refers to it, ‘putting your money where your mouth is.’
“We need to have more of that pro-defense [mentality], because the truth is our Airmen and our civil servants are the best workforce that we could ever strive for,” the former cheerleader expressed. “We have so many unsung heroes here, because people do transition out. That's what it's all about.”
Armed with knowledge about California’s socioeconomic challenges, she expresses her concern for Airmen in a state with a population of 40 million.
“So, how do we be a source of support for them?” she asked. “We need to better understand ‘quality of life’ and what that means to today's Airmen. What are the resources to help serve them, so that our country can benefit by their excellence?”
She caught sight of the time nearly an hour into her interview and quickly began collecting her things for a meeting with the 60th Air Mobility Wing commander. She gave some final remarks before running out the door.
“In my industry, we chase shiny pennies. What’s new and sexy, rather than try to fix foundation and cultures; and I have always wanted to be a part of, ‘let's fix what isn't,’” she said. “That's why I applaud this base for being so progressive and reaching out to find new and broader horizons.”
Person has supported Team Travis over the years because she became enthusiastically acquainted with the impact of rapid global mobility.
“The base is not just an asset to Solano County. This is an asset to our state and to AMC,” she said. “So, our [efforts] need to be broader than all of us. Travis isn't ours. It's everybody's.”