Senior Master Sgt. Robert Nation is the first person to greet President Barack Obama when he boards Air Force One. In the nearly four years since he was promoted to serve as the 11th head steward for the presidential airplane, Nation says it’s still exciting to go to work every day. “I’m very blessed to be in my position,” he said. “I’m just a small town boy from Iowa; I never thought I would be greeting the president on an airplane every day.”
Serving as a flight attendant for Presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton, Nation was promoted in October 2010 to lead Obama’s Flight Attendant crew. He has touched every continent except the South Pole and has visited over 104 countries logging over 6,000 flight hours.
Nation said his most memorable flight was taking President Obama and former President Bush to Qunu, South Africa, for former South African President Nelson Mandela’s funeral.
Nation has had quite an amazing career, and he hopes it will continue as he works toward promotion to Chief Master Sergeant in two years. The promotion will earn him another four years aboard Air Force One serving the next President of the United States.
When he looks back on his college days, Nation can hardly believe how his life has changed. At one time, the former center on the Peacock Men’s Basketball team was in danger of failing out of Upper Iowa. Luckily for him, junior varsity basketball coach James Foth took the freshman cager under his wing and mentored him through a tough time. As a result, the Jesup, Iowa, native battled back to be named Upper Iowa University’s Men’s Basketball ‘Freshman of the Year.’ Nation lettered all four years at Upper Iowa under the dedicated eye of coach Bill Prochaska (Pro).
“Robert was a very dedicated collegiate basketball player for the Peacocks,” said Pro. “Tell him once and he followed the game plan and assignment to detail. He had a smooth jump shot and was a fierce rebounder. At 6 foot 5 inches, Robert was a three-year starter, a gentleman on campus, a skilled player on the court and a great teammate. It was a pleasure to coach Robert and I am very proud of all of his accomplishments.”
Pro and his son, Mike Prochaska, who assisted in coaching one year, can both recall a huge upset against a local college team in the 1986-87 season where Nation starred. News coverage from the night stated, “…and Robert Nation, who had nine of his career-high 15 in the second half, keyed the upset victory. ‘Nation played his best game of the season, of his career,” Prochaska praised. ‘He made a big difference.’”
In 1989, Nation graduated with a degree in physical education with an emphasis in recreation. He delayed enlistment in the U.S. Air Force later that summer and started boot camp in April 1990. After three years of working in morale, welfare and recreation (MWR) at Howard Air Force Base, and later, Columbus Air Force Base, Nation applied to be a flight attendant. He was then stationed at Andrews Air Force Base.
Nation and his wife, Michelle, who is a registered nurse at county hospital near their home in Dunkirk, Md., have three children, Tyler, 16, Natalie, 12, and Grace, 8.