Story by 1LT Pawel Puczko on 03/21/2019Chief of Naval Air Training (CNATRA) headquarters recognized its top civilians for superior job performance and contributions to the command mission, Feb. 14.
CNATRA Rear Adm. Greg Harris named Anne Owens and Wilfred Merkel Civilian, and Senior Civilian of the Year, respectively.
"All of the nominees presented for CNATRA's Civilian of the Year program represent the immense knowledge, dedication, and experience of our entire staff," said Harris. "I'm incredibly lucky to work with a team so committed to bettering the future of Naval Aviation and I am very proud to honor our two distinguished winners for this year."
Owens, a native of Farmville, North Carolina, serves as the deputy public affairs officer and staff photographer for CNATRA. She was selected as the CNATRA Civilian of the Year for her continued dedication and her expansive contributions to the Naval Aviation training community.
"The people who I work with are fiercely dedicated to our mission and I'm so happy to be a part of this team." said Owens. "I love that I'm able to support students as they begin their aviation journey and capture important moments in the lives of our instructors and their families."
Owens is an experienced photographer and public affairs practitioner, previously serving as the editor of Naval Air Station (NAS) Corpus Christi's newspaper "Wingspan." She played a key role in founding South Texas Aviator Memorial Association in 2017, a non-profit organization that supports the families of fallen aviators, and continues to provide extensive support to its mission. As the command ombudsman, Owens provides a direct line of communication between the command and its members' families. She also provides photography support of the Pilot for a Day program, which allows seriously ill children to experience the life of a pilot.
Owens' work over the past year has impacted every aspect of Naval Aviation. She has supported student naval aviators, instructor pilots, as well as active fleet pilots who visit NAS Corpus Christi and neighboring areas.
Merkel, a native of Batesville, Indiana, serves as the simulator requirements officer for CNATRA. A 30-year U.S. Air Force veteran, Merkel leverages his extensive military experience as a technical expert in his field.
During his time in the U.S. Air Force Merkel served as an instructor pilot on the T-37 Tweet primary trainer aircraft, and flew the F-4E Phantom long-range supersonic jet interceptor and fighter-bomber aircraft and F-4G Wild Weasel electronic warfare aircraft. He also flew the T-38 Talon jet trainer aircraft for more than nine years. During this time, he served as commanding officer and deputy operations group commander, as well as lead for the standardization and evaluation division of the Air Education and Training Command at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. He retired at the rank of colonel.
Merkel's extensive knowledge and deep understanding of aviation have made him instrumental in the continued operation and advancement of flight simulator training. This year, he was instrumental in the implementation and development of virtual reality (VR) simulators in the training syllabus, helping students accelerate learning timelines on the ground before taking flight.
"Any success I have had, has hinged not solely on my effort, but on all the support and assistance I have received from throughout the staff," said Merkel. "I have spent 30 years flying military aircraft, much of that time training young aviation students while utilizing the newest technologies that supports Naval Aviation training. I love the work and the fact that I can have an impact on the quality of our new pilots."
Outside of his work with CNATRA, Merkel spends most of his time engaging with industry professionals. He often seeks out conferences to advance his knowledge of the future of simulators in the aviation community. Merkel spends a lot of his personal time as an active participant in many of his church's volunteer opportunities.
CNATRA, headquartered in Corpus Christi, trains the world's finest combat quality aviation professionals, delivering them at the right time, in the right numbers, and at the right cost to a naval force that is where it matters, when it matters.