From a high school math teacher to an Air Force pilot, Daniela Martian exemplifies what it means to dream big dreams and achieve them.
“I grew up on a farm in North Dakota, just outside a small town of about 600 people. We were dirt poor, but we didn’t know we were poor because everyone else was just like us and didn’t know better,” Martian said. “I was number five of six kids, and all I knew was that women either became farm wives, nurses in the nursing home, or teachers. I don’t begrudge anyone who does that, they are very much needed, but I knew as a young girl, that wasn’t for me.”
Upon entering college, Martian decided to major in business, but took her first economics course and quickly changed her mind and decided to major in math education.
After marrying her college sweetheart, Martian and her husband decided to move to Alaska to teach.
“I wanted to go somewhere different and experience something new,” she explained. “So at eight months pregnant, we packed all our worldly possessions in a car and moved to Alaska.”
Teaching high school geometry and trigonometry, Martian said she was happy. Still, a Space Science Facility was being built just outside her classroom window, and she couldn’t help but wonder if she could enter this exciting world of science and math.
“Challenger Learning Center of Alaska” was hiring for a position that required a lot of science and math, but it also required an educator role,” Martian said. “I applied, and I got the job! I was immediately in over my head, but this changed the trajectory of my entire life, and my world exploded overnight.”
Martian kept her educator hat on while working with prominent astronauts and said, “One day, I just had this epiphany moment. I could really do something, and I decided I would go to space. That’s what I’m going to do.”
Going through the application steps, with a letter of recommendation from Senator Stevens in hand, Martian said that the Air Force flight school recruiter didn’t give her the time of day. “Until, one day, he called and said there was an opening in Columbus, Mississippi, for pilot training.”
Martian, her husband, and their children packed up and moved to Mississippi. She was 28 then, and they were only to be in Mississippi for one year.
Martian also went to a formal training unit for the F-15E, where she flew Strike Eagles, “It was glorious!”
After one year in Afghanistan, Martian returned to Columbus to fly, “It was then when I made a very conscious decision to be a Mom. I had already missed so much. People ask me if I ever have regrets. My answer is always absolutely not.”
“One of the best assignments I’ve ever had was being a pilot instructor. At first, I was angry about it, but then I realized I had left a high school classroom for a new classroom that was 25,000 feet up in the air. What can be better than that?”
Martian’s husband had joined the Mississippi National Guard during this time and is now Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel (G-1) in Jackson.
The Martian family has been in Mississippi for over 20 years now. Martian, who now flies for Delta and is still an Air Force Reservist, said, “We were supposed to be here for one year, just one year. We’ve now owned a home in Mississippi for over 21 years. My kids graduated high school here, and I can’t speak more highly of their education. We have made lifelong friends, and although this is not what I had originally planned, I have no regrets. Otherwise, our path would not have brought us here.”
The Brigadier General Wilma Vaught Visionary Leadership Award winner was recognized in 2021 for her outstanding service and dedication to the Air Force and the nation during her career and after her retirement.
The award is presented annually to Airmen from any career field or occupational series who exhibit innovation, commitment, and a selfless spirit of service to others.
As a leader, Martian was lauded as the first-ever 43rd FTS female operations officer, a role that increased her ability to mentor fellow aviators and staff members. A key member of the southeast region female Civil Air Patrol board, she also mentored 40 CAP cadets, empowering young women to pursue careers in aviation.
“It’s interesting where life takes you– from teaching high school math to being upside down in the air in Afghanistan. I am most grateful for the support of my husband. I am blessed to have a best friend and partner that has always supported me. It’s been a wonderful life. We all have a story to tell, don’t we?”
All photos are courtesy of Daniela Martian.