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Engineer continues father’s Sentry legacy

A picture of her father, Kris, adorns Kristy Garriott’s workspace. The E-3 engineer with the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Wing, is working at Tinker in the same type of position that her father held for years.(Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

A picture of her father, Kris, adorns Kristy Garriott’s workspace. The E-3 engineer with the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Wing, is working at Tinker in the same type of position that her father held for years.(Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- To most children, their parents' jobs are just a lot of smoke and mirrors. Few kids truly comprehend what mom and dad actually do while away from the house for long hours of the workday. For many, they get a good-bye and perhaps a peck on the cheek, with a promise to 'see you when I get home.' Then, the parents are gone, and the mystery of their occupation is prolonged for another day.

Kristy Garriott was no different. A teenager when she first visited her father's Tinker office for a tour, she was attentive that day but "not overly interested."

"I knew (my dad) was an engineer but I didn't really know what he did," Ms. Garriott says. "I knew he worked on the airplane with the big dome on the top of it."

And that's how things ended after Ms. Garriott's tour: A mild interest in the E-3 Sentry airframe her father, Kris Garriott, worked on day in and day out as an aerospace engineer in the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Wing. But that's about it. It was a cool looking plane, but still a lot of smoke and mirrors.

Kristy's dad had always wanted her to be an engineer. With a natural affinity for math and science it was a viable option for the bright student, but she wasn't taking the bait. She knew what she wanted and it wasn't that.

When she enrolled in freshman classes at the University of Oklahoma, Kristy made a friendly compromise with her dad. She chose chemical engineering to meet the name requirement, but her goals rested far away. She had her sights on medical school and, at 18 years old, she didn't look back.

Today, the 30 year old spends her time peering into underbellies, prodding body parts and curing the woes of ailing patients. Kristy wears protective goggles in her work place, as well as closed-toe shoes and no jewelry, for the patients' safety. People respect her when she walks the brightly-lit halls of her cavernous workplace and she wears a tell-tale badge with her name and title for all to read.

But, one thing is amiss, or so it would seem. Her numerous co-workers don't know her as doctor. Rather, they call her engineer.

Her father devoted 36 years to Tinker before retiring several years ago as a highly respected E-3 aerospace engineer. And today Kristy follows in his professional jet stream. Foregoing the life of medicine, she now breathes life into an aging fleet of E-3 airframes as a fellow aerospace engineer. Dad got his wish, it would seem.

Although he's no longer at Tinker, Kristy sees her father every day in the engineering accomplishments he left behind.

"I still see some of his decisions that he made and some of the concepts that he developed that we still use today," Kristy says. "I didn't know much of how he interacted at work but having worked here and hearing people talk about him, I really see how highly valued he was. He was a very credible engineer and very well-liked."

Among his accomplishments, her father collaborated with others to develop a troubleshooting technique on the E-3 turntable that saves the Air Force millions. Just last year the technique diagnosed a turntable problem that cost $2 to repair instead of the $2 million initially estimated, Kristy says.

Assigned to the 327th Aircraft Sustainment Wing, Kristy started at Tinker in 2006 and is the USAF E-3 Corrosion Manager, the E-3 oxygen system lead engineer and the E-3 turntable lead engineer. She calls the same nook of Bldg. 3001 home as her dad did and even shares some of the same co-workers.

No doubt Kris Garriott would have been proud of his daughter. On August 16, 2008, Kris Garriott passed away following an eight-month battle with lung cancer.

Those were the hardest eight months Kristy has endured.

"It totally changes you," Kristy says. "For those eight months, my life was focused on his healing and getting him better. I pretty much became the parent for him. Before all that I would've considered myself pretty weak, but through that whole experience and looking back on it now I thought 'wow I have a lot more strength than I would think.'"

At first it was heart-breaking to be at work after his death. Every link to her father was now a vivid reminder of his absence. Kristy remembers cleaning out his desk drawers with a timeless clarity. There were papers with his handwriting and his favorite hard candy he would gum while poring over E-3 data. She kept the papers he wrote on.

"I had to go through some extra hard steps after the death of my father because of this great thing," Kristy says. "There were some hardships that came with it. It wasn't an escape from anything. When I came here it was more things to deal with and address."

Now, some 20 months since his death, things have changed for the up-and-coming engineer. She is daily aware of her father's absence as she goes about her life. She will never be without those memories of him, of the cancer, those eight months and his death. And she still has the myriad reminders of him in the work place. But things are different now.

"Of course when you lose your dad it changes you, but it's kind of unique because while I lost my dad I'm still surrounded by people who knew him and his efforts every day," Kristy says.
"At first that's really hard but now once time has passed it's neat. It's like I'm still surrounded by my dad and he's part of my life in this way at Tinker."

People still call Kristy on her work phone looking for her dad. With such a similar moniker, her name shows up on the global search when they look for him. Those calls used to be difficult, but now she is happy to help where she can.

The things that first attracted her father to the engineering world are ones that hold Kristy in it today.

"That's one of the best things about working here is that the people I work with are so smart and know what they're doing and are experienced in what they're doing," Kristy says. "I know engineers have a stereotype but you dig deeper and they're great, funny, goofy people.

Kristy hopes she'll one day reach the peaks her father topped in his almost four decades of engineering work. She has her radar set on moving into the upper management ranks of the E-3 airframe someday and hopes to further cement the family name in Tinker engineering lore.

"I want to be as good as my dad was. When I leave I want to be as admired and well respected as he was," Kristy says. "I want our name to keep going for the engineers behind me."

Through the bond of engineering, Kristy understands her father in a way few can boast. She remembers what her thoughts were about the E-3 when she took the tour as a teenager. She's come a long way.

"Now I see that big airplane and I see the complexity of the systems and subsystems and potential problems and corrosion issues," Kristy says. "I see a totally different picture now."

Kristy also has another picture in her mind. It's a photo of her and her dad with an E-3 looming in the background. It was taken that day of the tour and they played it in a slide show at her dad's funeral service. It represents the unity of their worlds, brought together by the watchful Sentry.

Kristy's work at Tinker is more than a job. It's a way of life, a summation of years of training and study. And now it's a family legacy, of mutual interest and service to country. Kristy understands her dad and what he did.

For her, at least, it's not just smoke and mirrors.