No NATCA representative from the Casper, Wyo. Air Traffic Control Tower (CPR) has ever been to a NATCA convention. That is, until Christopher “Stu” Bernhardt joined.
Bernhardt (pictured at left with NATCA EVP Trish Gilbert and NATCA President Paul Rinaldi), a NATCA member of only nine months, was elected CPR Vice President at the end of 2011 and just recently returned from the 2012 Denver Convention as the first CPR NATCA representative to ever attend a NATCA convention.
“It was a huge honor to be able to step up and be a part of that as well as be elected the voice for Casper,” said Bernhardt.
A CPR member has never before attended a convention because the small facility’s budget does not allow for the travel costs and quarterly reimbursements haven’t been enough to cover the expenses. However, the location of this year’s convention changed that.
Denver is a four-hour drive from Casper, so Bernhardt hopped in his car to drive the distance, not knowing the impact he was about to make.
“I felt it was a life-changing experience,” said Bernhardt.
Bernhardt attended the convention not only as a NATCA representative, but also as a new and young member. He said that his time at NATCA Convention changed his view of NATCA, of his career and of his future.
Before convention he supported NATCA, but wasn’t sure what the union did. Now he understands the NATCA brotherhood and sisterhood, the union’s goals and the driving force behind them.
“Being at convention made me realize it doesn’t matter if you’re at a facility with 300 members or at a facility with 10 members, you still have a voice and you can still make a difference,” said Bernhardt. “You can stand up and be a part of these different committees and have your voice be heard. Being at convention changes your perspective on all of that.”
Bernhardt also learned how he can get the monetary support he needs for his facility to be more involved in NATCA. Although CPR members knew about events like Communicating for Safety (CFS) and NATCA in Washington (NIW), Bernhardt explained that they didn’t feel it was an attainable goal to get to the events. However, by simply talking to his brothers and sisters at convention, Bernhardt found out about the financial tools available to help members travel to these events.
Taking what he learned back to Casper, Bernhardt said the facility leadership is currently looking into earmarking money for CFS and NIW 2013 and for facility members to take advantage of classes offered by NATCA Academy. They are also going to propose setting aside funding for the facility to send some members to NATCA Convention 2014 in Minneapolis, a proposal that has a much larger chance of success after this year’s convention due to the passage of an amendment that raises small facility quarterly reimbursements from $450 to $550.
Bernhardt expected the convention and its business to be conducted in a very formal, “stuffy” manner, but was pleasantly surprised.
“I was really glad to see that while we are a professional organization, we are a professional organization made up of people who have a really good sense of humor and a lot of experience and bring that to convention,” said Bernhardt.
Bernhardt had some advice for other small facility leaders who may be discouraged about costs associated with traveling to the next convention or major NATCA event or may be wondering if a trip is even worth the costs.
“Do everything you possibly can to get one person to go. I really wish everyone could get the chance to go to a convention at least one time in their career.”