MINOT AIR FORCE BASE, ND --
Capt. Katie Spencer never planned to join the Air Force Reserves. But after graduating from Florida Gulf Coast University with a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications (and since then a Master’s from Georgetown University), she found herself struggling to find a job. Her mother, who had served in the Reserves for 33 years, encouraged her to explore the option of enlisting. It was a hard “no” from Spencer. After a little more persuasion from her mom, she finally caved in and went to a recruiter. The rest was history.
Now, Spencer holds three titles: Katie, an everyday civilian, Capt. Spencer, Public Affairs (PA) Officer for the 512th Airlift Wing at Dover Air Force Base, Del., and Chief of 5th Bomb Wing PA at Minot AFB, N.D., and Ms. Spencer, Sports Outreach Program Manager for the Department of the Air Force (DAF) in Washington D.C.
Spencer knew that the PA track was her calling when she enlisted. Her career has now come together in the most unexpected way and it has brought her on an amazing journey that she never thought would be possible.
A Unique Opportunity
Spencer worked several years as an enlisted Airman before being selected to commission as an officer but soon found herself in another job-related predicament. “At the time, I was working as a full-time Air Reserve Technician in a civilian status. When I was chosen to get my commission, they selected me but that was for a traditional Reserve Officer job, so that’s one weekend a month, two weeks a year type commitment,” Spencer said. “But I couldn’t give up my full-time job to become an officer for one weekend a month; I needed a full time job.”
Before she accepted the opportunity to commission, Spencer needed to line up another civilian job that would keep her going full-time, so she began searching through Facebook. One day, she received a message from her now-supervisor about an opportunity at the Pentagon. She applied for it and after a long waiting period, Spencer finally became the Sports Outreach Program Manager for the DAF. She was also able to commission as an officer and set her career on a whole new trajectory.
As the Sports Outreach Program Manager, Spencer is responsible for being the liaison between the Air Force and professional and collegiate sporting organizations. She works closely with widely known brands such as the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Collegiate Athletic Association, and more to coordinate Air Force flyovers at major sporting events nationwide.
While flyovers may seem like a straightforward display of patriotism, they have more purpose than just showing off to the world. “[Flyovers are] important because it gives our pilots and maintainers the opportunity to do ‘time over target’ training. When you think of the B-52, in combat operations they have to hit a target at a certain time. Same thing when you’re at a sporting event… they have to hit ‘home of the brave’ at the specific time. So they’re working with our people on the ground who are working with our production team… and they know when to hit that time of target. Not only is it physically operating the aircraft, but it’s mentally,” said Spencer. Along with training experience comes the recruitment aspect of flyovers.
“You have a little boy or girl that’s in the stands and they see this massive aircraft and feel the jet noise in the pit of their soul, and they want to grow up to be a pilot or to do that one day. That’s why we work with the organizations to have recruiting onsite,” she said. “We work with all kinds of sporting organizations because essentially that is the kind of demographic that we’re looking to recruit. They bring in all kinds of ages, races, ethnicities, and genders to their events. It’s a strategic way for us to tap into that future generation of aviation and patriotism.”
Spencer’s job is to bring all of these aspects together to create successful flyovers that inspire future generations and instill pride in the Americans who attend these sporting events. She has been able to build the program essentially from the ground up into what could now be considered “the most aggressive sports program in the Department of Defense.”
Becoming a part of Team Minot
Spencer was a major driving force behind Minot’s B-52 Stratofortress flyover at Super Bowl LV in February of 2020. Since then, her career has gone full-circle as she has recently become a member of Team Minot as the Chief of 5th BW Public Affairs.
“I did not know at the time that I would ever in a million years come to Minot Air Force Base. It just so happened that the opportunity presented itself to come out here and be activated for two months to fill the gap between the outbound PA officer and the inbound PA officer, and because of how great working with this shop was for the Super Bowl, that led me in my decision to come here and lead these exceptional Airmen. It’s so crazy how my worlds have come together more than I ever thought that they would,” she said.
When the assignment was listed, Spencer jumped at the opportunity to work with the PA team she already knew of from 1,300 miles away.
“We just had such high expectations for them, and now to come and lead this shop of Airmen who did such an exceptional job at the task that I threw at them from the civilian side, it’s so humbling,” she continued. “To see the B-52 up close in the air on Super Bowl Sunday and now to be part of this community that helped make that happen, it truly is a full-circle moment.”
“Working at the Pentagon, I’m making phone calls to Minot and Ellsworth and Whiteman, all these places, and you have a job to do, so you’re not emotionally tied to these specific units. You’re emotionally tied to the operation. Now, being here at Minot, I’m personally involved in the operations that they do and it’s cool to see the other side of it.”
Since coming to Minot, Spencer has been working tirelessly to keep 5th BW PA running smoothly. She will only be in Minot for 66 days, but her short time here has already left an impact on her career and life.
Perspective as a Reserve Citizen Airman
Spencer distinguishes herself and her fellow Reserve members as “Reserve Citizen Airmen.” Not only is she a member of the community, but she also serves that community in uniform. “I have my job in uniform and then I have my job as a civilian and then I have my job as just Katie. It’s the balance of being a Reservist…” she explained.
Because of her many titles, Spencer is able to draw upon experience from different areas to help her career. She has a unique, inside perspective of the dynamic between Washington D.C. and the units at all of the bases she has been stationed at.
“The best part about being a Reservist is that I have the opportunity to bring in my civilian Pentagon experience. At the Pentagon, we write policy. We have a strategic outlook on things and we communicate that to our PA professionals on the wing level and then they implement that. It makes it easier to execute our mission at the wing level because I understand the intent from headquarters. So I bring my experience from HQ into the field but also my experience from the field into HQ. It’s like this cyclical relationship where I can give feedback from all across the spectrum,” she said.
After her time in Minot, Spencer will go on to fulfill her annual “two weeks a year” obligation by working with USAF Central Command. While she is still assigned to the 512th AW at Dover AFB, she has been afforded opportunities in various Air Force missions including space, rescue, airlift, fighter, and now Global Strike. She has also had involvement with the North American Aerospace Command Defense and is heavily involved in their Santa Tracker program around Christmas time. “All of these little experiences I’ve had comprise the whole of myself as an Airman,” Spencer said.
“I’m truly blessed and just humbled that this sorority girl from college who didn’t want to join the military has now built the Department of the Air Force sports program to what it is and has been fortunate enough to serve in both capacities as a civilian and Reserve Citizen Airman to tell our Air Force story.”