Former Navy Air Traffic Controller Targets Film Career


Nancy Villalobos

VETERANS ASSOCIATION: Melanie Fisher, vice president of the Veteran’s club, strategizes with President Jeff Davis.

It started off like any other day in high school for Jeff Davis, then 18. He was practicing for track on the Naval Air Station base in Sigonella, Sicily, where his father was stationed, when he heard the terrible news. It was September 11, 2001, and terrorist attacks had hit the soil of his home country. It fell on his ears as his call to serve.
“I came into the coach’s office just as the second plane crashed. Our base went on lockdown and everyone was in awe that someone was bold enough to create such a catastrophe on American soil.

That same day I tried to sign up for selective service early because of the rumors of pending war already circulating,” Davis said.

“For the rest of the school year our school buses had military members on every bus, one in the front with a shotgun and one in the back with a pistol, to protect the students on the way to and from school. I ended up spending months talking to my father about what I wanted to do to contribute. While my experience with 9/11 is not from Ground Zero excavating bodies alongside medics and firefighters, it was a different kind of real for me.”

Davis joined the Navy right out of high school in 2002, and followed in his father’s footsteps in becoming an Air Traffic Controller. He served for 10 years before deciding to make a career change though enjoyed his extremely high stress position. “I could safely land 1 jet every 60 seconds on a floating runway that was only 1000 feet long,” Davis said. “Eventually, I became an instructor.”

Davis, now 32, is a second-year film student at Glendale Community College. He stands at 6 feet 2 inches, has short blonde hair and blue eyes. He has a sort of rugged calm demeanor and dons his signature silver belt buckle that gives him a combination rockstar-cowboy look with his tattered fitted jeans and worn cowboy boots.
Raised in Kentucky by his grandmother during his early years, he’s a country boy at heart. He may serve well as the school’s resident mascot, a Vaquero. “I find it amusing that people may look at me as being out of place with my style of dress, but then I think perhaps they don’t know the history of the school, our mascot is a cowboy,” Davis said.
Though he doesn’t have a specific genre of films he’d like to direct, he plans to make documentaries which shed light on to veteran affairs with an emphasis on homelessness and suicide prevention, two problems he says are widespread in the veteran community.
“Though there are programs that are designed to assist vets in transitioning to civilian life, they are few and far between and frequently do not offer enough support,” Davis said. “I hope to one day have a facility that offers different levels of transitional support for those in need.
“When a vet returns home there’s no parade, no community celebrity status, no one even knows who you are or what you’ve been through. It’s not like the Budweiser commercials.”

When Davis returned home he faced the challenge of deciding on a career path and was a 911 operator for the better part of a year. He found it difficult not to want to jump through the phone at times and render aid to those in need. From suicide calls to babies being born in parking lots, keeping one’s emotions in check can be a tall order.

“When you get a call from a woman who is being abused it’s really hard not to want to get off work and go over there and address the situation yourself, but of course you can’t do that,” Davis said. “It was too difficult emotionally to take all that when a large majority of calls in a day are literally life and death. I had to leave that position and move on to other things.”

Davis had California dreams on his mind. “I decided to go back to school,” Davis said. “In order to accomplish that, I sold a lot of things I had in storage and moved west. When I started school, I vowed not to quit until I finished. I was actually offered a job back east that paid very well, and I stayed the course because of my promise to myself.”

One of the things Davis struggles with is learning to cope with a sense of loneliness that he feels from time to time now that he doesn’t have the constant surroundings of his large military family. When one’s shipmates are in numbers sizeable enough to equate to a small city, and you’re an integral part of a team, it becomes normal to have constant interaction with another human at all times. Adjusting to being without it has taken him some time to get used to.

He acknowledges that he finds student life is far less hectic and stressful than being an air traffic controller. No one’s life is at stake during the learning process and he is mature enough to value the information his instructors give him whereas when he was younger he may not have been as focused.

“When I was in the Navy I would smoke cigarettes with my shipmates and just talk to de-stress. I would sit on the ship and watch the open ocean and the clear night skies and think about life,” Davis said. “Now at home, I do something very similar. I sit on the front steps of my apartment complex and smoke a cigar while watching the world pass by. I contemplate my life’s decisions as well as my future.”

“While serving in the Navy, one of my fondest memories was on a port visit to Perth. Several of my shipmates and I participated in a community relations project. We went out and helped the scouts of Australia refurbish one of their campsites in the outback. Afterwards, we went on a hike with them and got to see koalas and wallabies in the wild, all before we had a cookout with them and ate Australian style barbecue,” Davis said.

In keeping with his call to serve, Davis is now active in his campus community while learning the tools to pursue a career in the film industry.

Media Arts Professor Mike Petros is one of Davis’ instructors. Petros finds that Davis has all the makings of a successful film student. He recognizes qualities in Davis that he’s seen in other students that have gone on to have careers in the film industry.

“Jeff is highly intelligent and has a clear passion. He’s inquisitive, bold, always cordial, takes criticism well and learns from it. He has a natural curiosity and willingness, and is very competitive. And, he attends class regularly which is very important.” Petros said. “These are all great traits in a person that wants to succeed in the type of environment that exists in the film industry. It’s not a place where one can shy away.”

Davis applies his tremendous work ethic and discipline to all that he takes on. He works at the campus bookstore while attending school full time and is the president of the GCC Veterans Club, a position he is honored to have and takes very seriously. Along with other members, Davis is actively planning out viable ways for the club to make a positive impact on campus and for its members in the long term through fundraising efforts, donations and volunteerism.

“As President, he’s been able to create cohesiveness among the members and we have an all-time high in terms of active membership,” Veterans Services Coordinator Charles Shumate said.

Davis’ charisma and perseverance are helping him to achieve his goals. His ability to stay cool under pressure allows him to take on challenges some would walk away from. Underneath it all, Davis is not satisfied with where he is in life.

He remains focused on the future with an unwavering dedication and attention to detail in hopes of making a difference in his own life as well as the lives of others.

“I like to keep my eye on the big picture and dissect my long term goals into short terms goals,” Davis said. “For instance, my long term goal is to direct films, my short term goal is to pass a quiz I have this week.”

“I’d like to see the club stay on campus and grow stronger, eventually being able to offer more services to help vets successfully reenter society,” Fisher said.