Heroes Who Work Here: Dave Atkinson

Former Naval Flight Officer transitions from the cockpit to biotechnology.

Photos of Dave Atkinson

Dave Atkinson is a Quality Systems Manager at the CSL Behring site in Kankakee, Illinois, and is quick to welcome other veterans in the workplace. He credits a “Salute to Service” photo wall in the corridor at work for helping to identify and recognize employees who have served from all branches of the military.

We thank Dave for his military service and are proud to shine the spotlight on him as part of an ongoing Vita series on “Heroes Who Work Here.”

Tell us about your military service:

I served in the US Navy from 1987-1992. I was stationed at Naval Air Station Pensacola, Florida and then at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, in Puget Sound, north of Seattle, Washington.

I was a Naval Flight Officer (NFO), or Co-Pilot, which is a more familiar term. If you’ve ever seen the movie “Top Gun”, “Goose” -- the guy in the back seat -- was an NFO. My aircraft was the EA-6B Prowler, a stretched four-seat version of the two-seat A-6 Intruder, a Vietnam-era low-altitude, high-speed bomber.

I deployed twice. The first time was on the USS Enterprise on her round-the-world cruise from California to Virginia to be refueled for the last time. This was right before the first Persian Gulf War. The second time was on the USS Abraham Lincoln, which had just been commissioned, and replaced the Enterprise. This was immediately after the first Persian Gulf War.

How do the skills from your military service relate to your on-the-job experience?

I am the Quality Systems Manager for CSL Behring’s leading-edge manufacturing site. That means I am the keeper of all the product quality-related metrics for all of our manufacturing processes.

The most basic skill I learned in the military was simply the ability to live a structured, disciplined life. After you’ve done so under very adverse and dangerous conditions, doing so “back home” is a piece of cake.

The other most transferrable skill is the ability to deal with complex, dynamic situations. In the carrier aviation community, it’s called dealing with “helmet fires” and “snakes in the cockpit”. You need to quickly assess the situation, decide what is most important, and focus on that task only until it is the next task’s turn. In a leading biotechnology company like CSL Behring, there are always competing tasks and competing priorities.

What role does your support system “at home” play during and after active service?

My wife Diana is my hero. We had already been married for five years when I entered the Navy after college. She jumped in with both feet from the beginning. She served as the Liaison to new spouses when I was in Flight School. She volunteered for countless charity auctions, welcome-home celebrations and, sadly, even a post-crash funeral. She made us a two-person “team” that ensured our success. And we still have the squadron Welcome-Home sign she painted hanging on the wall in our garage.

Why is it important to you that CSL Behring support employee veterans?

It’s helpful to have someone with whom you can relate when you transition into the workplace after military service. You suddenly feel like a newbie or a stranger in your own backyard, often “behind” in the normal career cycle by however long you were serving, while other people your age started in the workforce earlier and may be further ahead. So having a company like CSL Behring that is welcoming you in and providing resources is helpful.

What is your message for veterans who might be considering a career with CSL Behring?

This company is very veteran-friendly. You will find a large number of veterans present from all branches of the service with whom you will work, and with whom you can exchange your “sea stories”. Also, your experience in uniform will have already taught you that there is a very large world out there, filled with folks who are much different than you, but who at their core, are the same basic human being as you are. This will directly translate into your collaborations with your CSL Behring colleagues from many other parts of the world. We are all different, but we are all the same, and we all have a common purpose behind our work – helping patients live full lives.

Are you active in volunteering or other activities outside of work?

I’ve sung the national anthem twice at our CSL Behring “Salute to Service” ceremonies and emceed one of them. Today my primary means of “giving back” is my local community theater involvement. I enjoy teaching youngsters how to express themselves creatively, and overcome their fear of performing in front of a crowd. It is wonderful to watch from offstage as kids experience their first standing ovation at the end of a performance and almost literally see the light bulb come on inside of them.