Throughout his life, the only constant for Steve Sartain ’98 is that it’s consistently inconsistent.
Born in South Korea into a military family that alternated between Korea and the U.S. every few years, change is all Sartain has known. Yet, no matter where he’s been in his life, Sartain has managed to build a sense of community with those around him, just as he’s done by helping establish the first U.S. Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) post in Australia.
“One of the things missing for me here in Australia was the sense of camaraderie that I had in the military as well as a central group of Americans living Down Under,” Sartain said. “Additionally, there was little to no support for American veterans and their families like they would receive if they were Stateside.”
Out of this desire, Sartain, along with several other U.S. veterans, applied for and got Western Australia VFW Post 12163 chartered on May 7, 2017. From putting on social events to providing services to veterans and their families and supporting the local community, Sartain has worked in several roles in the post to make U.S. veterans feel at home on the other side of the world.
With his father’s service in the Air Force, Sartain is the fifth generation of military servicemen in his family, and he’s been able to trace his family lineage all the way back to the Revolutionary War.
“Having grown up on Air Force bases for most of my life, I always wanted to fly, so right after I got my driver’s license at 16, I flew for three months straight and earned my private pilot’s license, which is still one of the most memorable moments in my life.”
Attending high school in Germantown, Tennessee, Sartain decided Auburn was the best fit for him because of its strong aviation and aerospace programs as well as its top-ranked ROTC unit. What he didn’t realize is that he would get much more than that from his experience on The Plains.
“I specifically remember walking around campus during my first visit, and the fact that just saying “War Eagle” means hello, good-bye or what’s up, I was hooked. I loved my Auburn days, and to this day, I still try to represent Auburn in any way I can in the Land Down Under.”
In his time at college, Sartain was active in March of Dimes, the Auburn Choir and Delta Sigma Phi and Phi Mu Alpha fraternities, but a life-altering moment came during his time as a camp counselor in the inaugural Camp War Eagle.
During one of the academic sessions when campers can speak to advisors, Sartain decided to discuss the hospitality program with Susan Hubbard, now dean of the College of Human Sciences, because not many airlines were hiring at the time. She suggested taking a couple entry-level courses in the major. Because of his background working in the restaurant industry, the classes felt like second nature and he switched.
A couple internships with the Walt Disney World Resort later, Sartain got hired as the hotel manager for the Ritz-Carlton in Atlanta two weeks after graduation and was heavily involved in the Ritz’s college-recruiting efforts. Many of these visits were back to Auburn. During one such trip, he met his wife who happened to be an exchange student from Edith Cowan University in Western Australia; his fraternity “big brother” was eventually the best man at his wedding in Australia.
Although he would occasionally fly, even sometimes taking friends to Auburn gamedays, the itch to get back into the cockpit was too much, and he was sworn into the Air Force in 2001 after three years with Ritz.
“I’ve always said my worst day in the air is better than my best day on the ground.” After completing training in 2003 and with his squadron being deployed overseas, Sartain was one of just three officers running the entire squadron in Florida. With numerous jobs and responsibilities in the squadron and being half Korean on his mother’s side, Sartain got the nickname “Odd Job,” from the Korean villain in the James Bond movie “Goldfinger.”
After more than a decade of meritorious distinguished service in the Air Force, Sartain relocated to Australia when his Auburn sweetheart got a job offer too good to refuse.
His illustrious Air Force career included flying Combat Rescue deployments across the globe, flying humanitarian missions supporting Hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Ike as well as flying 17 rescue missions for NASA’s Space Shuttle program. He also aided in the rescue mission that was dramatized in the film “Captain Philips” starring Tom Hanks.
Sartain’s first job in Perth, Western Australia, was director of the AeroSpace Training Centre for the state government, but once again, the itch to personally get back into the cockpit was too strong. When he got the offer to be the inaugural manager for Western Australia’s Emergency Rescue Helicopter Services, he couldn’t resist.
“The opportunity to be back in world search and rescue was too good to pass up. It is an honor to lead our rescue crews in providing this life-saving service for the state, and continuing to uphold the SAR motto: These things we do, that others may live.”
With a dream job secured, the only piece of his past life missing in Australia was the sense of camaraderie he got from the military. But just as he’s done in dozens of homes growing up, at an unfamiliar school in Auburn and on several Air Force bases, he created a sense of togetherness through the first VFW in Australia.
“Our goal is to continue to support American veterans and their families here in Western Australia. We have been fortunate to be able to increase our post numbers each year, promote the VFW in supporting the community and bring together a tighter-knit Oz-American extended family.”