Assistant Unit Operator | Kingston Fossil Plant | Kingston, Tenn.
Amanda Walls loves a challenge.
Before she came to TVA, she spent six years as a correctional officer, including four years at the notorious Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary in Morgan County, Tenn. Then, in 2011, she was selected for TVA’s Student Generating Plant Operator Training program. That's when things really got tough.
“I lived and breathed electricity and plant operations," Walls remembers. “I was either in class, or I had my nose in a book. But when it was over, I was confident that I knew what I was doing. I knew I could do the job.”
She was selected as an assistant unit operator, or AUO, at Kingston Fossil Plant. AUOs are the eyes and ears of the unit operators, explains Walls. “Unit operators monitor and control the operation of the plant from the control room while AUOs are out on the plant floor. We’re the ones that investigate problems, perform preventive and minor corrective maintenance, and operate valves and other equipment. All of that is important to power system reliability.”
Two years before coming to work at TVA, Walls also had joined the Tennessee Air National Guard.
“I’ve always had a passion for the military,” she said. “Several of my uncles and cousins have served, and it was something I wanted to do since I was young. I associated the military with action and adventure, and that drew me. But I also felt called to serve. I love my country and want to do my part to protect it.”
What she wasn’t so sure about was flying. “When I joined the Air Force, I’d only flown once, and that was as a kid,” said Walls. “My first trip as K-135 crew chief, I was scared to death. But I ended up absolutely loving the job. Flying is addictive—the more I fly, the more I want to fly.”
(The KC-135 is a military refueling aircraft; a crew chief is a jack of all trades when it comes to aircraft maintenance.)
In order to get more time in the air and advance in the Guard, Walls decided to take on a new challenge. She recently completed an 11-month training program and is now a fully qualified KC-135 boom operator.
Walls says it’s one of the coolest jobs in the military. As a “boom,” she basically operates a gas station in the sky: “We operate the equipment in the KC-135 that connects to the receiver aircraft in flight so fuel can be transferred.”
Boom operators can spend anywhere from 30 minutes to two hours lying in small pod on the belly of the jet. They direct the receiver aircraft into refueling position, operate the controls to make contact between the tanker and receiver aircraft, and keep the tanker pilot informed about refueling progress.
Outside of work, Walls is equally adventurous. She says she’s happiest on her ATV: “I bought a RZR side-by-side a few years ago, and I ride it every chance I get—mostly on the ATV trails in the Brimstone Recreation area near Huntsville, Tenn. It gets my adrenaline pumping just like an unrestricted climb.”
Walls says she was raised a tomboy. “When I was growing up, I raced motorcycles, rode horses and played just about every sport. My dad taught auto body repair at the local vocational school, and I was his sidekick. Working with my hands, fixing things, operating equipment—it all came from him.”
The center of Walls’ life is her 15-year-old son, Gunter. “He’s full into military,” she says. “He feels the same call to service that I do. That makes me so proud. ”
U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Walls recently began her second deployment as a boom operator. She is currently supporting Air Force operations and aircraft in the Pacific.
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