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Mark, Laura, and the couple’s daughter, Sara, each found their way to the Alaska freight logistics company.

By Hilary Reeves

Like many who call Alaska home, Mark and Laura Smith moved north from other states and never looked back.

“I was born in Georgia and moved to Florida when I was 10,” said Mark. “Three years later, in 1980, our family moved to Alaska.”

Meanwhile, Laura grew up in the country near Eugene, Oregon.

“We always had many pets and farm animals and grew a huge garden. I spent a lot of my free time raising and riding horses, hunting, fishing, and dreamed of becoming a veterinarian,” she said. “When I moved to Alaska in 1984, it was just to be for the summer. I fell in love with the incredible beauty of this state and the unique mix of people that live here. I may be from Oregon, but Alaska is now my home.”

It didn’t take long, she said, to understand the importance of the aviation industry to a state that is only 20 percent accessible by roads.

“My focus changed when I discovered the thriving aviation industry that exists in Anchorage, known as the air crossroads of the world,” she continued. “I found aviation to be extraordinarily interesting and immediately began pursuing a career in the field. My first job in Alaska was at the airport ‘turning’ international flights, boarding passengers, driving stair trucks, and clearing Customs documents during the day while taking night classes to earn my Flight Dispatcher’s license.”

The Smiths both joined Northern Air Cargo (NAC) during the height of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in 1989 when cleanup materials came into Anchorage in a constant stream from the Lower 48.

“There were airplane and truckloads of boom, pumps, sweep materials, drums, etc. – all being hand-loaded onto the aircraft,” said Mark. “This went on day and night for months.”

“NAC was flying around the clock in support of the cleanup effort,” Laura continued. “I was amazed by the dedication and family-like atmosphere of the NAC team turning flight after flight with the fleet of DC-6 aircraft. It has been an amazing journey, witnessing the company grow and our market expand over the years.”

Flight of hazards

For the Smiths, NAC has indeed become a family affair. Both have logged more than 30 years with the company, and one of their two daughters, Sara, was hired on several years ago.

“Since both of my parents have worked for NAC for so long, I basically grew up in the NAC environment,” she said. “I remember always being so excited on the days I’d get to come to work with them and visit the warehouse and see the airplanes. It seemed like an obvious choice to start working for the same company, so I followed in their footsteps.”

Mark began his tenure stacking priority and non-priority mail at the Post Office for the flights. He later began loading aircraft, DC6 and 727, before moving into the warehouse where he “ran into” his current position – DG (Dangerous Goods).

“The best thing about DG is that it keeps you mentally stimulated by following the rulemaking process and constantly evaluating process/procedure to ensure safety and compliance,” he said. “It keeps everyone engaged, focused, talking solutions and working together.  Really can’t ask for more than that – teamwork.”

Laura is currently the Administrative Manager of Flight Operations and will soon begin a new position as Executive Assistant at NAS.

“I’ve been in the Flight Operations department for 30 years: 19 years Flight Control, 10 years as Flight Crew Scheduler/Flight Crew Planner and one year as Flight Operations Administrative Manager,” she said.

Sara started at the company as a Customer Service Representative in the Cargo Department.

“I enjoyed the job, but I ultimately wanted a position that was more technical in nature, rather than customer service,” she explained. “During my time as a CSR though, I had the opportunity to assist in the Flight Statistics department and I enjoyed it tremendously. I love working with numbers. Unfortunately, it wasn’t a permanent position. However, that led me to find an opening for a NAC Stockroom Clerk in the Maintenance department, which is where I currently am and have been for several years.”

Giving back

Though Sara has enjoyed her years at NAC, unlike her parents, her ultimate goal isn’t a career in aviation.

“I’m currently in college to become a certified phlebotomist so I can begin working in a medical laboratory,” she said. “From there, I intend to finish my Bachelor’s degree in medical laboratory science and achieve my ultimate goal of becoming a medical lab scientist. I’ve always had the desire to work in the medical field, but I’ve been too intimidated to try and pursue it. Recently though, I realized that it is truly what I want and I am determined to make it happen.”

And while her parents enjoy being outdoors, “tinkering,” and gardening, Sara’s “main hobby” involves giving back.

Sara Smith, as Kylo Ren, at a photoshoot at Goose Lake in Anchorage.
Sara Smith, as Kylo Ren, at a photoshoot at Goose Lake in Anchorage.

“In 2016, I became part of an amazing group called the 501st Legion – the Alaska branch is called the Aurora Borealis Alaskan Garrison,” said Sara. “It is a Star Wars-themed worldwide costuming organization that makes professional-grade Star Wars costumes and whose members, ‘in character,’ visit children’s hospitals, support local charity events, and raise donations for organizations such as the Make-A-Wish Foundation. We’re a very active group, so I am out participating usually several times a month. It’s a lot of fun and it brings so much joy to the community. Being a part of this group combines three of my favorite things into one: Star Wars, cosplay (costuming), and making people happy.”

Mark and Laura, meanwhile, plan to stick with NAC through retirement.

“If I was to consider doing something else, about the only real idea would to be a consultant for shipping/transportation companies regarding dangerous goods,” Mark said. “So many shippers have so many questions. The most surprising thing about my time here at NAC, and specifically DG, is that I had no real intention of doing DG; I really just fell into it.  It was pretty foreign to me at first, but it didn’t take long to understand and apply it, and before long, I was training it and affecting regulatory changes.

“I think the one thing I am most proud of is the company I work for,” Mark concluded. “Think about it  – more than 30 years; NAC has been there while I was raising my family and seeing to it we were taken care of. I’m proud to say I, and my family, work for NAC.”

Hilary Reeves

Hilary Reeves spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining the Saltchuk family of companies as a consultant. Since People of Saltchuk launched in 2014, Reeves has interviewed more than 200 Saltchuk employees from operating companies all over the world. Born in Tacoma, Washington, Reeves is a former president of both the collegiate and local professional chapters of the Society of Professional Journalists, a graduate of the Society’s Ted Scripps Leadership Institute, and a Toastmaster. When she’s not writing, she loves to read, ski, and practice the piano. She lives in West Seattle with her husband and two young daughters.