Waunakee resident Daniel Statz has served as a member of the Air National Guard since 1993, performing various roles throughout his 28-year career.
Now a lieutenant colonel with the 115th Fighter Wing, Statz said the journey’s been long yet rewarding.
Statz grew up in the construction industry during the late 1970s and 80s, helping with the family business that his father owned. While other siblings continued the business, Statz found himself drawn to different career fields after seeing the technology that they afforded people to work with.
“I was always interested in aircraft,” Statz said. “Driving past the Dane County Regional Airport, the lights and everything always interested me. So I pursued a degree in aircraft electronics.”
Statz enrolled at Blackhawk Technical College, and as he neared graduation, began looking for full-time employment with an organization where he could put his newfound knowledge to the test. A family friend pointed him toward the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
Early military career
While his father and four uncles had served in the military, Statz said joining one of the branches himself had never been a point of discussion or something he seriously considered growing up.
Working on an F-16 sounded like a unique and interesting opportunity.
Statz enlisted in the Guard that November and began his military career at Lackland Air Force Base, where he attended basic training in the summer of 1993. Statz said the experience was unlike anything he had been through during his youth, and something he enjoyed at the time.
“Growing up in this area, there’s not a lot of diversity,” Statz said. “So seeing all the different cultural aspects of people from across the country coming together in one… You end up having lots of late-night talks with that group that you’re with, learning the different experiences of some people who were just happy to have three meals a day and shelter over their head.”
Statz attended continued training at Lowry Air Force Base in Denver, Colorado, where he learned avionics. His class would be one of the last to receive training at the base as it closed in 1994.
Statz served as a traditional guardsman until 1996, at which point he took a full-time position with the Guard. In his first two years of being full time, Statz was deployed twice – first to Kuwait as part of Operation Southern Watch, and then to Turkey as part of Operation Northern Watch.
Statz remained full time until the year 2000, when he resigned from his position so that he could return to school and pursue an electrical engineering degree from UW-Madison.
The Guard paid for 100% of his tuition.
Call to duty
Statz said he was at the university on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The terrorist attack shocked the country, including those who served in its armed forces. Statz had begun to receive job offers from major engineering firms at that point and could have joined the private sector earning more money than he ever would be able to in the military.
However, he knew that he couldn’t walk away from the Guard at a time of national crisis – especially not after a terrorist attack.
“When 9/11 happened, that completely altered his path of how he decided to go the route he went,” said Statz’s wife Devon. “I mean, it was a significant event in everyone’s life. But it definitely altered his full-time path, because he could’ve been an engineer and still been a weekend warrior. But he felt in his heart that he was doing the right thing by going full time with the Guard instead.”
Statz joined Operation Noble Eagle, in which he was assigned to Madison for the country’s alert mission focusing on surveillance and control of U.S. airspace. He was still in school at the time.
“I was on a 10-month order, and worked 40 hours from Friday to Monday, covering 24-7 for the unit while I was going to school during the week at UW-Madison. I was lucky enough to have a girlfriend at the time that took care of me and help support me on the weekends,” Statz said, crediting his future wife for helping him with household tasks and other personal responsibilities.
The tour tested the young couple’s relationship as they hardly had time to spend with one another.
Devon, a teacher, had taken a job in the Chicago area so that she could take care of a grandparent with Parkinson’s disease. So, the two had become accustomed to a long-distance relationship.
“But when he got activated, he was going to school full time during the week and I was teaching full time during the week. So the only time I could see him was if I drove up here. And it was usually to watch him sleep,” Devon Statz said. “But I tried to be as supportive as I could and at least have a meal together.”
Devon said the year following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks opened her eyes to the commitment that her future husband had made to the military.
Statz became a commissioned officer in maintenance shortly thereafter, following his graduation from UW-Madison. From 2004 to 2011, he joined three contingency deployments in the Middle East and Europe. They included a 2004 tour in Qatar for Operation Enduring Freedom, a 2008 tour in Iraq for Operation Iraqi Freedom, and a 2011 tour in Iceland for Operation Northern Viking.
Statz said the time overseas gave him a greater appreciation of home.
“Throughout my travel in the military, I realized how much I took for granted the qualities of this area of Wisconsin,” said Statz, who has since been deployed on multiple other occasions.
Fortunately for his wife and three children, his most recent deployments have been stateside.
Army War College
In 2018, Statz applied for admission to the U.S. Army War College’s Distance Education Program – a rigorous two-year program that earns graduates a joint military-accredited diploma and Master of Strategic Studies degree. Statz was one of approximately 500 service members accepted, and 13 Air National Guardsmen selected for the program that year.
The program required Statz and his classmates to take part in 15 hours of virtual learning, collaboration and other work on a weekly basis, as well as a pair of two-week summer residencies.
Statz described the program as challenging, especially with a full-time military job and a family.
“It was certainly difficult to balance all those requirements, because my full-time job is quite demanding as well,” said Statz, who now serves as deputy commander of the 115th Fighter Wing’s Mission Support Group. “It’s not a 40-hour-a-week job. I usually am in at 6 a.m., and I try my best to get home by 6 p.m.”
Statz completed Army War College earlier this year and will next take a position at the Fighter Wing’s F-35 Unit Conversion Office. The fifth-generation jets are expected to arrive in 2023.
“The capabilities that they bring, and the platform being the cornerstone of the Air Force’s mission for decades to come, it’s a just a great achievement for the Wing to receive that mission,” Statz said. “We are the second Air National Guard unit in the country to receive that mission, and we’re fifth operational unit that will be standing up the F-35. So it’s a platform that’s very critical to the future of the military. And that that’s being based here in Madison, the significance shouldn’t be lost.”
Statz has served as a spokesman for the Wisconsin National Guard on multiple occasions, educating the public and elected officials about the F-35 mission that will soon be touching down in Madison. More than once, he has found himself in a city council meeting past 12 a.m.
Devon Statz said her husband’s responsibilities place challenges on the family, but said she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“As challenging as it can be on our end, I’ve always been really proud of him and want to support him,” Devon Statz said, “because he love his job so much and cares about our community. And I do, too. So there’s sacrifices along the way. But in the good of everything, that sacrifice is worth it. And I just couldn’t be prouder of him.”
Statz said he plans to remain with the Wisconsin Air National Guard for at least the next eight years, at which time he may consider retirement.