Man no longer has head in the clouds

Posted: Wednesday, December 01, 2004

After nearly four decades of keeping the skies safe, Kenai's John Bernard is heading out to sea.

"We're planning a cruise in February," Bernard's wife, Carolyn, said Tuesday on the eve of her husband's retirement from the Federal Aviation Administration.

Bernard began his career with the FAA in 1968, following four years in the Air Force. His first job was in Bethel, where he worked in the flight service station before moving to Kenai in 1970.

In 1974, the new air traffic control tower was built in Kenai, and Bernard moved upstairs. For the next 23 years, he gazed into the skies and at radar, controlling the movements of aircraft buzzing about the area. In 1997, Bernard returned to the ground, moving into the Kenai Automated Flight Service Station.

On Tuesday, Bernard said his most fond memories of his long service to the government stem from the time he spent in the control tower.

"You're pretty much making decisions all the time," he said. "You're kind of like a glorified traffic cop."

Bernard grew up in New Jersey but has spent most of his adult life in Alaska, originally coming to the state while stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage. It was while he was stationed in Anchorage that he met Carolyn at her sister's wedding. Shortly afterward, they were married.

In addition to falling in love with Carolyn, John fell in love with Alaska during his nearly two years at Elmendorf, he said.

"I said, 'Man I'd like to come back here,'" he said.

Now, after spending the past three decades in Kenai, Bernard said he has no intention of leaving the place where he and his wife have raised their two children, Christine and Michael.

"We might do a little snowbirding, but not for too long," he said.

Today is Bernard's last day with the FAA. He said he's got mixed feelings about leaving the job he's loved after a total of 41 years, two weeks and one day as an employee of the federal government.

"It feels pretty good," he said. "But I've enjoyed it, and I'll miss it, too."

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