GE Aerospace employees have unique opportunities to participate in myriad once-in-a-lifetime experiences — from spending time on US Navy carriers to engineering technically advanced aviation systems and the largest,  most powerful commercial aircraft engines.

Most recently, two employees joined those ranks when they participated in a KC-135R Stratotanker aerial refueling mission with a combat-ready aircrew from 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base, Indiana high above the skies of Indiana to Oklahoma.

Last month GE’s Matt Burns, Chief Financial Officer for Systems, and Suyin Copley, Head of Human Resources for Military Systems and GE Edison Works, participated in a unique event where Indiana’s Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard units partnered together with the Indiana Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (ESGR) to hold a joint employer event. The focus of the program was to provide insight into the duties performed by our employees in the Guard or Reserve while on duty. The event was a joint forces mission between the 122nd Fighter Wing (FW) and the 434th Air Refueling Wing (ARW), with support from the 181st Intelligence Wing (IW).

Employers from multiple industries and states were present. They were split into small groups for the refueling missions. Burns and Copley were placed in a KC-135R Stratotanker aircraft to refuel an E-6 naval aircraft over Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma CityThe KC-135R that performed the refueling in addition to the E-6 were both equipped with systems from GE and four CFM56* engines. The group traveled as part of an actual training mission rather than activity for the visiting employers.

Left to right: Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Nathan Parks, command chief master sergeant of the 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base; Suyin Copley; Matt Burns; Air Force Col. Thomas O. Pemberton, commander of the 434th Air Refueling Wing, Grissom Air Reserve Base

“I am proud to say that my stepson is in the Air Force supporting fuel logistics. However, he told me that he has never been on a KC-135R to refuel mid-flight, so I am incredibly grateful that I got to witness this in my lifetime,” Copley said. “We were also happy to hear positive reviews from our customers. It was pretty cool to hear them brag that the aircraft could run with just one of the four GE engines operating!”

Burns came away from the experience with a whole new appreciation for the service GE’s military employees provide and the snippet into the military service part of their lives.

“It’s fascinating to get to walk in other people’s shoes and see what matters to them,” Burns said. “To the airmen and women in the Guard or Reserve, the ‘bring them home safely’ portion of GE Aerospace’s purpose statement is deeply engrained in the culture. The mission that these folks carry out is meant to protect our freedom, and it’s exciting to know that GE can provide our services in return.”

The refueling closed the joint employer event between the Air Force Reserve, Air National Guard and the Indiana Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve.

This was only the second time these organizations had hosted a joint employer event. Across two days, employers were given a firsthand look at the mission of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard and their impact on our nation’s defense and local economies. Employers even took the sky alongside Indiana’s military leaders to discuss their reservists’ and guardsmen’s roles.

Copley said the experience was incredibly eye-opening, energizing and humbling. She said she took away a new awareness of the sacrifices and commitments these service members make, in addition to carrying out their roles in the workforce.

“We were both honored to be there, and I walked away hugely proud of our armed service members and motivated to support them,” Copley said. “Our military business is made up of roughly 30% veterans, and there’s definitely an affinity to protecting these warfighters. There’s a huge alignment in our industry with these veterans across skills, capabilities, and work ethic.”

The pair were nominated by Brian DeGennaro, vice president of Sales/Business Development and Marketing for Unison, who said he chose two employees who are strong advocates for veterans. DeGennaro recently retired from the U.S. Air Force after over 25 years of military service and continues to be a strong advocate for the Veteran’s Network at GE.

“I wanted to provide them a perspective of what a day in the life of a reservist or guardsmen does while they are on their weekend or annual tours,” DeGennaro said. “The GE employees that also serve in the reserves or National Guard have large responsibilities in their military roles, and I wanted to afford GE leaders an opportunity to see firsthand what these reservists and guardsmen do and bring to GE.”

Burns, who recently celebrated 20-years at GE across multiple businesses has been with GE Aerospace more than 5 years now, where he previously served as CFO for Avionics and Engineering.

From left to right: Copley with Air Force Master Sgt. Courtney Werth Assistant Chief Boom of the 72nd Air Refueling Squadron, boom operator; Air Force Staff Sgt. Aaron Longgood, Planner for 434th Operations Support Squadron, boom operator.

“It’s the intellectual curiosity that keeps me here,” Burns said. “There’s a willingness of people to teach you as long as you show that curiosity, and I genuinely enjoy the people I get to work with.”

Copley’s 32-year career at GE has spanned across GE businesses including GE Aerospace, GE Transportation, GE Healthcare, and GE Plastics.

“In this company, I feel that anything is possible and our careers are a journey,” Copley said. “I am thankful for my experiences working across multiple GE businesses. And I walked away from this experience even more proud of GE Aerospace’s commitment to supporting and powering our military, including GE’s commitment to hiring Veterans. The National Guard and Reserve are essential to the strength of the nation and the well-being of our communities.”

*CFM International, which produces the CFM56, is a 50-50 joint company between GE and Safran Aircraft Engines.