When Dan Egert was in elementary school in Ocala, Florida, teachers shepherded him and his fellow classmates onto the playground to watch the launches of NASA’s space shuttles from Cape Canaveral, two hours away on Florida’s east coast.
Years later, while serving in the Air Force at Patrick Air Force Base (AFB), Egert watched the shuttle launches from his window at work. In July 2011, he drove several hours from Mississippi to watch the final shuttle launch in person.
Although he never dreamed of becoming an astronaut, space, and particularly rockets, always captured his attention. “It was always there,” he says.
Egert, a political science major in the College of Arts and Sciences and the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and an Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) cadet, will soon be embarking on the career of his childhood imagination.
He will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force on May 10 and graduate from Syracuse University on May 12.
On May 20, he will begin his new assignment at Patrick AFB in Florida—the place where he watched space shuttle launches—as a space systems technician. There, he will be a member of the team that puts rockets into orbit, from resupply missions to the International Space Station to satellite deployment.
An Uncertain Path
Egert’s journey had a few curves along the way. Growing up, he says, he really didn’t know what career path he wanted to follow. “I never really had a ‘this is what I want to do and I am going to do it’ way of thinking,” he says. “I think that was one of the things that led me into the military originally, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and that is a pretty good place for someone with that attitude.”
After an unsuccessful attempt at community college, he enlisted in the Air Force in 2007. His first assignment was at Minot AFB in North Dakota, where he served as an airfield systems technician and technical applications specialist for nearly four years, including a deployment to Iraq in 2009. He was then assigned to Patrick AFB in Florida, to the Air Force division that monitors adherence to nuclear treaties around the world. He served in that role for the next four years.
Coming to a Crossroads
In 2015, Egert came to a crossroads—a “quarter-life crisis” he calls it—and felt an intense desire to travel. He left the Air Force and bought a one-way ticket to Costa Rica. Over the next 18 months, he traveled to 40 countries in Central America, Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia. He purchased a $300 motorcycle and spent two months traveling Vietnam from border to border. He was in Prypat, Ukraine, the location of the former Chernobyl plant, on the 30th anniversary of the 1986 nuclear disaster. When Egert visited old conflict zones in the former Yugoslavia and in Kosovo, he was taken aback by an American military plane, shot down during the conflicts, now displayed proudly in a local air museum.
Egert traveled solo during his 18-month journey and found that he made friends in unexpected places who became like family. “Everywhere you go, you meet people just like you,” he says.
Back to School
The experience opened up the world to him and was a soothing balm for his wanderlust. But it also had a more important impact—it grounded him. “I decided it was time to settle down, to set my mind on doing something and succeeding at it,” he says. Egert had already begun taking some college courses and decided it was time to finish a bachelor’s degree. Syracuse, with its excellence in academics and well-known support for student veterans, became his choice.
He engaged in the Warrior-Scholar Project , a donor-funded college readiness initiative offered through the Office of Veteran and Military Affairs (OVMA), which is designed to help transitioning service members develop the academic critical skills and the confidence needed to thrive on college campuses. Egert began his studies in political science in summer 2017.
He also felt the military calling him back. The week he arrived on campus, he visited the Air Force ROTC office and enrolled as a cadet. “Nothing could have gone better in terms of the way it all worked out,” he says.
In the corps, he has served alongside cadets who, for the most part, were experiencing their first exposure to military training. “I hope I was a realistic example for them,” he says.
“Cadet Egert’s experiences and knowledge proved invaluable to the Air Force ROTC staff and cadets. In every leadership situation, he was able to maximize learning and teaching opportunities, improving himself and fellow cadets,” says Lt. Col. Timothy Kimbrough, commander of Syracuse University’s AFROTC and professor of aerospace studies. “He’s a humble, approachable and credible leader that I’m excited and proud to have leading active duty airmen in our Air Force.”
At the annual Chancellor’s Review on March 9, Egert was awarded the Professor John A. Meyer Leadership Award, the Commitment to Service Award and the Professor of Aerospace Studies Scholastic Achievement Award.
Looking Towards the Future
Egert is excited about what’s to come in his new assignment. “It’s like winning the Air Force lottery,” he says. He now finds himself paying close attention to all news regarding space and rocket launches.
He is grateful for the way his journey has come to a place he is happy to be. He encourages students to find what they are passionate about and reminds them that it is never too late to change course.
He is often asked for his advice on traveling, which he sees as a metaphor for a lot of things in life. “I tell them all you have to do is buy the plane ticket,” he says. “Once you make that decision and have the plane ticket, everything else you kind of figure out as you go.”
Egert will be on this assignment for the next three or four years, and then likely move to another assignment in the space realm. He still wants to travel—Nepal and Bolivia by motorcycle are at the top of the list—but has to wait for vacation time.
“It has to be round-trip this time—I can’t fly one way anymore,” he says. “I am in this for the long haul. It was time to choose a path, and this is it.”