MISSION FIRST: Flying Under The Radar




Dec. 12, 2013

by Ryan Yanoshak

When Chief Warrant Officer 5 Dan Jollota and his wife, Lt. Col. (ret.) Jane, decided to make the career move to the United States Military Academy, the goal was to help cadets.

Jane was a West Point graduate, Dan a veteran Army officer and both had been deployed numerous times. Each had a unique take on life in the military and wanted to share their experience with cadets and their families.

Dan and Jane met in Korea in the late-1980s where they were both stationed. What started as a friendship led to marriage and a family that includes son, Sean, a junior member of the Army lacrosse team and daughter, Erin, a freshman at West Point who is playing women's lacrosse.

Jane was commissioned as a second lieutenant in 1983, joined the Aviation branch and retired from the U.S. Army reserves when the family arrived at West Point in 2006. Dan was the West Point Aviation Detachment Commander in charge of two helicopters and two airplanes, while Jane first volunteered in the community and then accepted a position as the Cadet Hostess.

The family also decided to live on post for the first time in their military careers and really feel part of the West Point community.

The Jollota family quickly became involved by sponsoring cadets, and they opened the doors to their home for any cadet.

The marriage of two helicopter pilots wasn't easy, especially with both deploying often. They were married in September 1990, shortly after Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. Jane was deployed and Dan was on post at Fort Campbell, Ky., where he was involved with the 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment in addition to support groups for Jane's unit.

Soon after, Dan and Jane deployed to Somalia, leaving Sean in the care of Jane's parents. That situation, coupled with the birth of Erin in 1995, led to Jane's resignation from active duty. The family then moved to Virginia before deciding to relocate to West Point.

Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, then-Commandant of Cadets and now Superintendent at West Point, talked to Dan to gauge Jane's interest in the Cadet Hostess position shortly after they took their new posts. She applied for the job and was accepted during the hiring process.

"The job was a lot of fun," says Jane. "It was really neat to be a graduate and be able to share my experiences with the cadets. I worked in a lot of capacities, including all of the class events and summer training social etiquette classes. Having been in the Army so long, it was a bit out of my comfort zone in some ways, but it was a great way to interact with cadets and teach them life skills that they could carry throughout their Army career and their life."

While Jane was involved as the Cadet Hostess, Dan worked with the hockey team as an officer representative. While it was rare for a non-academic staff member to be an officer representative, Dan's love of hockey and passion for helping people made him a perfect fit for the job.

"When we decided to explore moving to West Point, we did an assessment of what we wanted to accomplish," says Jane. "We were members of the Special Operations community and we had never lived on a military post. When I was a cadet, I saw my classmates get close to their sponsors and thought it was really cool. We wanted to be on post and interact with cadets. We felt through the sponsorship program that we could help make the cadet's life a little better. And it did. The rewards our family got through building relationships and getting to know families was tremendous. It was a very rewarding experience for our children and for us to give back, and it was absolutely the highlight of our time at West Point."

Dan sent an e-mail to head hockey coach Brian Riley to express his interest in helping hockey players and the two quickly hit it off.

Josh Kassel, Army's lone Division I hockey All-American, was the first cadet the Jollotas sponsored and the relationship continues to this day. With Josh deployed as a helicopter pilot, the Kassels visited the Jollotas' home in Maryland.

The number of cadets visiting the Jollota household quickly grew and a Wednesday-before-Thanksgiving dinner expanded to a crowd of double digits so the hockey players would have a traditional meal before departing for games that weekend while the Jollotas were at West Point.

"It was such a wonderful time," says Dan. "It was time-consuming but so worth it. We really got close to a number of families. It was such a valuable and beneficial experience dealing with the cadets." Dan's role with the hockey team grew when he was elected president of the Army Hockey Parents Association in 2006.

"I wanted to link the past, present and future players together," says Dan. "And we wanted to provide support for old players to come back and see what the team was up to. It is such a passionate family and linking the past and present was really special."

Dan's path from Detroit to West Point is a tale in military excellence. The son of a police officer, Dan enrolled in college with the thoughts of becoming a certified public accountant. Six months in, he decided it wasn't for him and chose the Army for a structure and discipline change. His first assignment was with the military police, a stretch that lasted two years. He decided to pursue Combat Engineering, Airborne and Special Forces and eventually started jumping out of airplanes.

He joined Special Forces and was selected for the Golden Knights, spending nearly four years with the parachute squad during which he learned about Aviation.

Despite being enlisted in the Army for nearly 12 years, Jollota went to Flight School, a rare move for a senior enlisted non-commissioned officer.

His Aviation career has taken him all over the world and even earned him mention in "Black Hawk Down," a film that documents the brave rescue of two soldiers opposite a large force of heavily-armed Somalis. Jollota piloted one of the helicopters during that mission.

Jane is from upstate New York and while she was recruited to play softball at West Point, she chose to play lacrosse at the Academy. Coming from a family with four brothers, she enjoyed the physical challenges of West Point and embarked on a military career at a time few women were choosing that career path.

"One of the reasons we wanted to sponsor cadets was to help them through the process," says Jane. "I didn't know much about branches and posts. It is big decision and we felt like we could provide some good information about military careers. We felt it was important for us to make sure our cadets had people to talk to when they were considering branches."

Jane was debating between branching Military Intelligence or Aviation and Transportation before pursuing a flying career.

"Jane was a phenomenal officer," Dan says. "When I walked off my first Aviation assignment in Korea, Jane was one of the first people I met. I had more than 12 years in the Army and didn't deal with too many females. Jane struck me as a confident, competent officer that stemmed not only from her upbringing but also her West Point experience. I watched her work and her work ethic and it all stems from the academic and leadership environment she was involved in. It has made her the person she is today."

Jane led assault companies during her military career and like Dan has been deployed a number of times. Their experiences in combat made them a great resource for fellow families.

"Since 1983, post-Vietnam, Jane and I have been involved in every deployment with the exception of Grenada," says Dan.

"It started in 1989 in Panama, then Jane was deployed during Desert Shield/Desert Storm. I went to Iraq and we were both in Somalia. I was in Haiti and then Bosnia and then the Iraq and Afghanistan campaigns."

Those experiences as well as a life-long service led the family to West Point.

"West Point is certainly on the top of our list of tours," Jane says. "We had no idea of the impact the cadets and their families would have on our lives. "

"Jane offered so much," Dan says. "She was in the fourth class of women at West Point; embarked on a military career; became a mom; had to make some tough decisions; served as a reservist; retired and now works as a government service employee. She brought an amazing amount of information to these young female cadets. She also has a wonderful perspective on family life and all of the experiences involved."

Currently, Jane works with an Army unit as a training manager while Dan is assigned to an Army organization as a fixed wing pilot and serves as Operations Officer. Their home remains open for cadets, military members' families and anyone looking for a great meal, just like when they were at West Point.

Tune in tomorrow for CAPT. ELIZABETH LAZZARI: Born To Serve.

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