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Reservist brings Disney know-how to interim commander position

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Capt. Traci Arnold was handpicked to lead the 482nd Communications Squadron due to her natural leadership qualities and passion for the squadron. Arnold commissioned via Officer Training School in 2009 after receiving her degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University.

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Capt. Traci Arnold was handpicked to lead the 482nd Communications Squadron due to her natural leadership qualities and passion for the squadron. Arnold commissioned via Officer Training School in 2009 after receiving her degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt Ben Hayes)

HOMESTEAD AIR RESERVE BASE, Fla --

Every traditional reservist brings a wealth of corporate knowledge to their position in the Air Force Reserve. One such reservist is bringing years of business know-how with one of the top companies in the United States to her current position as the interim commander of the 482nd Communications Squadron.

Capt. Traci Arnold was handpicked to lead the 482nd CS due to her natural leadership qualities and passion for the squadron.

“When the position opened up,” said Col. David Biggs, 482nd Mission Support Group commander, “I appointed Traci because I knew she could do the job, and do it well, while we undertook the process to advertise and select a field grade officer commander.”

Arnold commissioned via Officer Training School in 2009 after receiving her degree in criminal justice from Rutgers University. She also has a master’s in international relations with a focus in conflict resolution. She served four years as an intercontinental ballistic missile combat crew commander, or missileer, and was stationed at Minot Air Force Base, N.D.

When it was time to separate she remembered how much she enjoyed visiting Disney World during vacations and applied to the Management Intern Program with the Walt Disney Company and was quickly accepted. She started with Disney as a management intern of park operations for DisneyQuest which was an area with games and attractions. She also helped out with guest relations and learned a lot about technical aspects of the park but also a lot on the customer experience.

“These experiences,” said Arnold, “have made me a better manager and leader with an eye toward both the mission and taking care of the Airmen in the squadron.”

Master Sgt. Astrid Lopez-Michelen, 482nd CS first sergeant is impressed with what Arnold has brought to the table thus far.

“I honestly never doubted that Captain Arnold would be a great leader at the comm squadron,” said Lopez-Michelen. “I never had a doubt that she would be able to fill in the role as commander. She has the ability to step back, analyze, listen to others, and then form a solution with a great end result. People gravitate to her and trust her leadership. She’s impressed us all with her thoroughness, attention to detail, but also her ability to lead us to perform at our best capacity.”

Arnold was born in Pitman, N.J. and began to think of serving her nation after 9/11. When she was working in college, she met a reservist who told her about the benefits to being a Citizen Airman who could still have a career and serve her nation. When she was working at DisneyQuest she met yet another reservist from Patrick Air Force Base who encouraged her to join the AFR.

“I could not stop thinking about it” said Arnold, who found she missed the camaraderie, wearing the uniform, and the whole military experience. “It is a completely different experience to be in the civilian world only, or the military world only — this is the best of both worlds!”

Arnold interviewed with the 482nd CS commander who hired her on the spot as a Traditional Reservist. After an almost two-year break in service Arnold was back in uniform and learning the new career of a cyber operations officer. When she came to Homestead and drove on base she realized how much she had missed the military and was delighted to be back.

For the next four years Arnold worked diligently in both her civilian and military careers. She found that there are aspects of the military that she can bring to Disney, but also aspects of leading at Disney that she can bring to her Reserve position.

Arnold finds that, “there are a lot of similarities between Disney and the military. From uniform wear to leadership concepts, they both want to bring out the best in each individual, find out what you are good at, and ensure the mission is always met.”

The Walt Disney Company, established in 1923 by brothers Walt and Roy Disney, is a multi-billion dollar conglomerate that is not only on the Fortune 100, but listed as their #1 “most admired company to work for.”

“At Disney, they teach situational awareness in the same way that the military does,” said Arnold. “Disney teaches you the way to listen to people and respond with different leadership and communication styles.”

Arnold will be covering different communication styles at an upcoming officers’ call for the 482nd MSG.

“She has the corporate knowledge to help the leaders of the MSG delve deeper into how to connect in their squadrons,” said Biggs. “I’m very much looking forward to her presentation!”

“We can teach you the technical things,” Arnold was told by a Disney supervisor, “however, the leadership style you have is learned through repetition and observing and learning what both good and bad leaders do.” Arnold took this to heart.

“In the Reserve they teach you that you are a leader 24/7 — the uniform is always on you” said Arnold. “It is the same with Disney. The company has 80,000 employees in Orlando alone and each and every one must follow a mantra that you need to always be aware of who you are and what you represent.”

“We are taught at Disney to hold ourselves to a higher standard as a Disney employee — it is no different than the military,” said Arnold.

Balancing two careers has not been difficult for Arnold. At Disney, she was recently promoted to the role of resort duty manager where she oversees the pulse and flow of a 6,000-room resort. She is the last line of defense before information reaches the resort manager. She likes the high ops tempo at Disney and this has prepared her to lead at Homestead where she excelled as one of the top four officers in charge of the Wings over Homestead Air and Space Show.

“The air show was flawless,” said Col. David Piffarerio, 482nd Fighter Wing commander. “The team that put it on, which Traci was a part of, worked tirelessly with vendors and the community to put on one of the best shows I’ve seen. I personally saw all the work she did and I know the air show was better for it.”