Taking flight

11/8/2013
Michael Susalla

Micheal Susalla’s life path first took him to the U.S. Air Force and an air base in Suffolk, England. Now, he’s using that experience as a springboard toward a career in software engineering.

Susalla transferred to the University of Michigan-Dearborn after receiving an associate degree in computer and information science from Henry Ford Community College. His journey began in 2004, when he entered the Air Force after receiving encourage-ment from his father.

“I was seeking direction for my life and considered entering the Marines,” Susalla said. “My dad asked me to consider other branches. When I took a closer look at the Air Force, I decided it was the best fit for me.”

After a year of Air Force training, Susalla was stationed in England at Royal Air Force (RAF) Station Mildenhall. The base originally opened in 1934 as a Royal Air Force station. The United States Air Forces in Europe have operated the base since 1959. Susalla achieved the rank E4, or senior airman.

“My military job involved integrated avionics, including communication and navigation systems,” Susalla said. “I mainly worked on the forward-looking infrared camera, or FLIR. It’s a thermal imaging camera mounted on C-130 aircraft.”

The Air Force assigns many active duty E4 ranks to Afghanistan or Iraq. Susalla spent three years of his military service at RAF Mildenhall, but that didn’t keep him from seeing the world.

“I did a lot of traveling when I was able to take leave,” he said. “I went to Dublin for St. Patrick’s Day and Edinburgh for New Year’s. I enjoyed seeing the Louvre and Eiffel Tower in Paris and also went to countries like Germany, Austria, and Luxembourg. I especially enjoyed spending a couple weeks in Japan at Okinawa, where I did some zip lining. It’s a beautiful part of the world. Of course, I also came home a few times for visits.”

Susalla says one of the most valuable things he gained from his Air Force stint is the GI Bill.

“Once I left the Air Force , I knew I’d use my GI Bill to continue my education,” said Susalla, who is the first member of his family to earn a college degree. “I’ve always liked working with computers, which is why I’m pursuing software programming. I’ve learned several different computer languages and enjoy the problem-solving aspects.”

Susalla says the excellent academic reputation of the College of Engineering and Computer Science inspired him to transfer to UM-Dearborn. He’s been impressed by the high academic standards as well as opportunities available through the university’s co-op program.

“The professors are excellent and the school is very veteran-friendly,” Susalla said. “I’ve attended a co-op program breakfast where I met several different potential employers. I’d like to take advantage of the program and gain some practical work experience this fall.”

Susalla says he’s approaching his college studies with the same level of discipline that he developed in the military.

“I also benefitted from exposure to people from many different cultures around the world, which has helped me become acclimated to UM-Dearborn’s multicultural environment,” he said. “This is a great place to jump start my career.

Back to top of page