New York Air National Guard Maj. Amanda Coonradt has her head in the clouds. Literally. As a navigator, she is responsible for mission planning, avoiding terrain and weather, fuel planning, leading air drops, airborne radar approaches and celestial navigation. She is also a mom of two young children, a wife, and a self-published children’s author. Her first children’s book, “Air Force Amanda: Adventure in Antarctica” was released in 2017 to rave reviews. She is set to write the next book in the Amanda series during her deployment to “the ice.”
“How could you not be inspired while in Antarctica?” Coonradt asks. “When there, you’re in a special and solitary place in the world. Although I have long days there, I can find time for myself! I don’t have much time at home for myself as a full–time working mom of two.”
Coonradt is successfully juggling motherhood and her career.
“I honestly couldn’t do it without my family and their support,” she said. “My husband and both sets of grandparents really go above and beyond to let me focus on my duty and give me the peace of mind that my kids are happy and healthy. I focus on myself and what I can improve on when I’m away from them. That’s the best I can do.”
Coonradt joined the New York Air National Guard at the 109th Airlift Wing in the fall of 2000, after graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in Saratoga Springs, New York.
“While all my friends were going away to college, I was going to boot camp,” she said. “But, by the end of basic training I knew I was meant to have the military as a major part of my life.”
In 2002, Coonradt was a 20-year-old senior airman deployed to Saudi Arabia. It was during that deployment she fell in love with aviation. She recognized the 109th to be the only unit with LC-130 airplanes, which can land in remote and austere camps in Greenland and Antarctica. The military unit uses skis to land on snow. She knew then she wanted to be a navigator.
Three years later, she completed her undergraduate degree in childhood education from the State University of New York at Oneonta. After receiving her teaching certificate, she applied and was accepted to be an officer. In 2009, after two years of active–duty training — including Nav School and C-130 training, survival schools and local unit trainings — Coonradt qualified as a ski mission navigator and tactical mission navigator. In between trainings and school, Coonradt married her husband, Russ, in 2009.
“We met in the military,” she said. “He was a firefighter at my Air Force base while I was in mission support group in the services flight.”
After Russ completed his commitment with the Air Force, he enlisted as a Navy corpsman to act as a medic with a Marine infantry unit. He deployed to Afghanistan in 2010. It was while he was away on deployment that Coonradt completed her graduate degree in literacy from the University of New England. All the while, she was flying regularly to Greenland and Antarctica. In 2012, she deployed to Kuwait and Afghanistan in her new role as a flyer.
“Moving everything from pallets, soldiers, supplies, captives and medical evacuations; I really felt I was making a difference every day during my deployment,” she said.
Today, Coonradt works full-time at the Stratton Air National Guard Base near Schenectady, New York, in addition to required drill weekends and deployments. However, for Coonradt, there is still nothing more beautiful than flying down on a glacier on a clear and beautiful day and landing on the snow and ice like only this specialized Air Force unit can do.
“We support the National Science Foundation’s research, people at the South Pole and multiple science camps spread over the continent,” she said. “Working in temperatures below freezing and flying six days a week can be challenging. It’s also very fun. It’s the best job in the Air Force.”
In April 2015, Coonradt was grounded, but for a very good reason. Amelia Catherine, her daughter, was born.
“Having to take time away from flying to have her was a change, but being a mom was another reason I was meant to be on this Earth,” she said.
It was during her first deployment to Antarctica after Amelia was born that Coonradt turned to writing to help her mentally stay busy while being away from home.
“I’m an educator, a mom and a navigator,” she said. “This (book) combines all my passions and interests.”
In September 2018, Coonradt and Russ welcomed their second child, a son named Caleb Aaron.
Since writing and promoting her first book and with her own children in mind, Coonradt is determined to create a series of books for military children.
“This book impacts military children in multiple ways. Relating to the fact military moms and dads leave for service on a regular basis. It can show them that we make the world a better place, not just from conflicts. That they too can serve in the future and enjoy friendship, pride and special experiences they can be proud of,” she said.
Coonradt believes in the power of educating children, to encourage them to dream big, and that having your head in the clouds can be a wonderful thing.