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Thank a local vet - Bill Santiff

Bill Santiff with wife Linda, and daughters Kristen and Katy circa 1984 while they were stationed at Hickam Air Force Base in Hawaii. Santiff was a lieutenant colonel at the time.

Prince Frederick, MD - He grew up in and was pretty much confined to New York State. Bill Santiff described it as a “meat and potatoes world.” It was when he was faced with choosing to fulfill a curriculum requirement while a student at Syracuse University that Santiff made what proved to be a crucial decision. As he told TheBayNet.com, he had to choose between physical education or Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC). “I never took physical ed in high school, it wasn’t offered.” Since he could choose any branch of the Armed Forces for ROTC and since Syracuse’ PE classes graded on athleticism rather than knowledge, Air Force ROTC it was. At the time—the early 1960s—the Air Force was encouraging its ROTC students to sign up to become officers. They offered Santiff and several other students two-year scholarships if they would stick with the program.

Santiff was working his way through college as a Federal Communications Commission-licensed broadcast engineer and was studying electrical engineering at the university.  Accepting the scholarship meant a four-year commitment to serve as an officer. Since New York State had numerous career opportunities for anyone with engineering degree, Santiff said his recently widowed mother “wasn’t too happy” that he had enlisted.

“I never traveled very far,” said Santiff, who soon found himself in sunny Florida, working on the U.S. space program in Cocoa Beach. Commissioned a second lieutenant upon graduation, Santiff, who could not be an Air Force pilot due to his lack of 20-20 eye site, nevertheless proved an asset on the ground during his assignment at Patrick Air Force Base and working at the Air Force Eastern Test Range at Cape Canaveral, providing technical support for programs like Minuteman, Polaris, Atlas and Apollo. In his spare time he took advantage of the less vision-restricted standards of the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and earned a private pilot license.

Subsequent assignments took Santiff to Europe and Asia. “The FAA private pilot license I had earned on my own impressed the major I was working for and, combined with my electrical engineering degree, set me up to be sent to Europe in the winter and the Pacific in the summer to investigate technical problems with air traffic control and navaid systems in vastly different local conditions,” said Santiff. Part of his stint in Asia included service as a crew member on five C-140A flight-check aircraft low-level missions across Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand check navaid coverage “to ensure the needs of the armed aircraft were being met.”
Of the European, Asian and Pacific assignments, Santiff declared, “I learned how to enjoy the cuisines of the world. It gave me a perspective. I got a world tour out of this.”

The data compiled during the troubleshooting missions impressed the Air Force brass, too. Santiff was promoted to captain. It was while on assignment at Andrews Air Force Base that Santiff met and married his wife, Linda, in a full military wedding at the base chapel. The couple celebrated their 40th anniversary earlier this year. “It was the best thing to happen to me,” Santiff declared.

While assigned to Crystal City in Arlington, VA, the Santiffs purchased their first home in Calvert County. Their daughter Katy was born. It was while on assignment in Hawaii that second daughter, Kristen, was born. Santiff was later transferred to the Pentagon and in 1990, after 22 years of active service and a lieutenant colonel, he retired. Santiff spent the next 20 years working in the defense industry, first for Litton Amecom and then Northrup Grumman.

Fully retired now, Santiff is active with St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Prince Frederick and is the “unpaid volunteer general manager” of WMJS-LP (102.1 FM and www.wmjs.org on the Internet).

In the air and on the ground, Bill Santiff has had quite a life of experiences. He did most of it on the wings of the U.S. Air Force. Santiff said he will spend Veterans Day enjoying a celebration with other vets at a celebration in West Virginia, where he and Linda have a second home. “I'll swap stories with other veterans,” he said.

Contact Marty Madden at marty.madden@thebaynet.com

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