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Air Force veteran is top first-year teacher

Posted on May 8, 2022

Updated on May 14, 2022

EducationSchool newsLocal news
Gabe Patton teaches aviation at Cleveland High Schoo.

Johnston County Public Schools photo

Gabe Patton teaches aviation at Cleveland High Schoo.

For the Johnstonian News

Gabe Patton, who teaches aviation at Cleveland High School, is Johnston County’s First Year Teacher of the Year. During a recent banquet, he received a $500 check from Horace Mann Insurance Co.

A 20-year veteran of the U.S. Air Force, Patton was stationed at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base when he retired in 2017 with the rank of master sergeant.

His journey into the armed forces was quite serendipitous.

All set to attend college after high school, Patton gave a friend a ride to the recruiting office. He decided to go into the office with his friend just to hear what the recruiter had to say.

“He sold me on the travel,” Patton said of the recruiter.

Per his request, Patton was immediately deployed to Europe, where he stayed for seven years. Young, single and with a passion for travel, he used any extra money and free time to hop all around Europe.

While at his first duty station in the United Kingdom, Patton met another Air Force member who shared his passion for travel. He and Amanda became travel partners. Then they decided to become life partners and were married at a cathedral in Bury St. Edmunds in England

While in Europe, the Pattons welcomed a son who now flies drones for the Air Force.

Patton began his Air Force career as an F-15 crew chief, meaning he was an aircraft mechanic. As he moved up through the ranks, he eventually became responsible for a team of people.

“I really enjoyed that aspect of it,” Patton said.

In 2002, the Pattons returned to the United States and were assigned to Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert of California. Patton went ahead of the family to get set up.

Going from lush Europe to the desert was a bit of a culture shock, Patton said. On his first day driving to base, he saw a coyote chasing a roadrunner like in the Looney Tunes cartoons.

“It was the weirdest, most surreal thing,” Patton said.

While stationed at Edwards Air Force Base, Patton worked with NASA and Boeing on some test projects. He was also part of a return flight of the space shuttle Discovery. Because of the weather, the shuttle couldn’t land in Florida as scheduled.

While in California, Patton and his wife welcomed twin daughters, who are now students at Corinth Holders High School. At that point, Amanda decided to leave the Air Force and focus on being a mom to their three children.

After retiring, Patton decided to fly drones privately. North Carolina had been deemed a testbed for unmanned aircraft, and there was money to be made if you had the proper licensing, which Patton had.

He and his wife had talked about him teaching in retirement, but Patton continued flying drones for a living. “I was chasing the money,” he recalled.

Yet, teaching was still on his mind. Finally, his wife said, “Stop talking about it and go and do the teaching thing.”

Patton decided he wanted to teach social studies because of all of the traveling he was able to do in the Air Force. He chose Johnston County because his son had a wonderful experience at Riverwood Elementary.

“It was the right fit for our family,” Patton said.

With resume in hand, Patton attended the schools’ virtual job fair, where once again his trajectory changed forever. He met Suzanne Lujan, executive director of career and college readiness for Johnston County schools.

Patton told Lujan he wanted to teach social studies. Upon seeing his resume and qualifications, she said, “You’re not going to teach social studies.”

Lujan’s department wanted to start an aviation program at Cleveland High School, and Patton checked all of the boxes. He met with the principal, and the two talked about how to set the program up.

“They (the administration) have been nothing but supportive of my vision,” Patton said.

Currently, the aviation program has 65 students. The first semester’s course was an introduction to aviation.

Some students from the first semester took and passed the Federal Aviation Administration’s commercial drone license exam. They got drones for Christmas, set up websites and are making money with their drones.

“It’s a trade, and these kids can get jobs right out of high school,” Patton said.

Even if students don’t end up getting the license, just knowing the lingo can help them land a job, Patton said. “Drones are going to be in almost every industry,” he said.

Patton is looking forward to next year, which will offer a level two class. “It’s going to be awesome,” he said.

The second-year students will dive into the industry side of drone technology such as thermography.

“I love coming to work every day,” Patton said.

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