By Robert Benchley
The next time you step onto an American Airlines flight, William Cason ’99 may be in the cockpit as first officer. Cason joined American in April, following 10 years as a U.S. Navy pilot. As Lt. Cmdr. Cason, he flew all over the world in just about everything the Navy puts into the sky.
If Cason is constantly on the go, it’s partly because things started out that way.
“My dad was in the state department, so I spent my whole life moving,” he says. “I was born in Venezuela, and we lived in Central and South America, the Caribbean, and Europe. We were living in Honduras when I applied to colleges; going to Lafayette was my 10th move.”
Cason possesses the cool self-confidence that is common among pilots. He’s had it for a long time.
“In college I wanted to compete in an Iron Man triathlon, and I figured the best way to prepare for that was to join a swim team,” he says. “Lafayette was a Division I school, and I had no concept of what that meant. I thought I could just walk on. But the coach said he had one spot left, and it was mine to lose. I ended up the team captain in my senior year. I ultimately competed in Iron Man in 1997 and went on to do 12 more.”
Unsure about plans for his future, he chose a government and law major because, given his father’s career as a diplomat, it was familiar territory. After graduation, he headed for corporate America.
“I worked two years for Lexmark, the printer manufacturer, then went to ADP, the payroll company,” Cason says. “In my second week at ADP, I asked the guy beside me how long he had been there. He told me how nine years before he had started out in my cubicle. He was proud because he now had a desk. The next day, I called a Navy recruiter.”
Cason was following in the footsteps of his grandfather, a Navy pilot in World War II. He entered Officer Candidate School in Pensacola in 2002 — the same program featured in the movie An Officer and a Gentleman, he notes. When he earned his wings in 2004, his grandfather was there to commission him.
“I began my Navy career flying helicopters in Hawaii,” says Cason. “I had a Pacific Theater deployment where we went from port to port conducting joint exercises with other countries. It was the Navy’s form of diplomacy, and it reminded me of my dad’s work when I was growing up.”
Cason’s aerial diplomacy continued with his next assignment flying the C-12, a small, twin-engine airplane used to transport military, civilian, and government VIPs, along with occasional cargo. Cason says he had the privilege of piloting Sen. John McCain on several occasions.
He left the Navy in 2012 and joined a Navy Reserve unit based in Coronado, Calif., that calls itself the VR-57 Conquistadors.
“We flew the C-40 — it’s actually a modified 737,” Cason says. “We had nine planes, and we flew passengers and cargo all over the world. We were kind of like the Navy’s personal airline. We transported everything from SEAL teams to USO entertainers. Sometimes we would bring troops home from long deployments to see their families. That experience enabled me to be hired by American Airlines.”
Cason calls his Navy service “an opportunity to continue a family legacy of service to our country. It gives you the feeling that you are serving a greater purpose, and you gain the camaraderie that comes with working with other service members.”
But, he adds, it isn’t for everyone.
“You must have a true desire to succeed because the training is hard,” he says. “You must be organized, self-disciplined, and constantly seeking to learn from your mistakes and improve. Some people are in it for the wrong reasons. The training will weed out those who do not have a passion for the job.”