Eagles Forever: Jerry and Kala Reitano Have Built a Life of Service

Jerry and Kala Reitano
Jerry and Kala Reitano met in 2005 as students on Embry-Riddle’s Daytona Beach Campus. Today, Jerry serves as commander of the campus’s Army ROTC program, and Kala coordinates campus visits. (Photo: Embry-Riddle/David Massey)

The first time Kala Reitano saw her future husband, Lt. Col. Jerome “Jerry” Reitano, he was skydiving onto Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach Campus to highlight the Skydiving Club as part of the fall 2005 activities fair. The second time she ran into him, they were at a Daytona Beach establishment on Seabreeze Boulevard, an area that is still popular with students.

“I always tell my cadets, don’t get caught on Seabreeze after midnight, because I want them well-rested for early morning physical training and their academic classes,” said Reitano, who now serves as commander of the Army ROTC program at Embry-Riddle. “But I have to admit, I met my wife on Seabreeze after midnight.”

Since graduating from Embry-Riddle and getting married, Jerry and Kala have continued to uphold Eagle values as a couple by serving their country as well as the next generation. Now, they are back at the Daytona Beach Campus, where Kala is the coordinator of campus visits, working directly with student tour guides and visitors, while Jerry leads the Army ROTC program and teaches Military Science.

This place just felt like home.
Lt. Col. Jerome "Jerry" Reitano, on Embry-Riddle

Just after graduating and commissioning in May 2006, Jerry reported for Army flight school at Ft. Rucker, Alabama. Kala had gotten a job with United Space Alliance as a safety engineer on the Space Shuttles at Kennedy Space Center, which she loved, but the two wanted to spend their lives together, so they married over the Christmas holiday.

“Working on the Space Shuttle launches was my dream job,” said Kala, who has a bachelor’s in Safety Science and a master’s in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle, “but it was short-lived because of Jerry’s military commitment.”

Assigned to the U.S. Army aviation branch, Jerry flew both Chinook helicopters and then fixed-wing airplanes, earning many medals along the way, including the Army Master Aviator badge. He has served overseas in Pakistan, South Korea and Afghanistan, and has been stationed at several U.S. bases, including in Texas, Kentucky, North Carolina, Virginia, Arizona and Alaska.

When they were stationed in Fairbanks, Alaska, Kala worked as the director of academic support for the Embry-Riddle Worldwide Fairbanks campuses, including Ft. Wainwright and the Eielson Air Force Base teaching site.

Both had been raised to work hard and give back, and both are what Jerry called “aviation fans.” Their two daughters are named Peyton Amelia, after Amelia Earhart, and Henley Collins, after Eileen Collins, the first female Space Shuttle commander.

When Kala meets with students, she sometimes tells them to enjoy their time at Embry-Riddle and not to be in too much of a rush to leave college and grow up.

“You’re going to look back and wish you could do it again,” she said.

Jerry, who has a bachelor’s degree in Aerospace Studies and a master’s in Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle, said he reminds his students and cadets to foster their relationships with others.

“You never know when you might need a hand, or some advice or support,” he said. “Relationships matter.”

Kala and Jerry said coming back to Embry-Riddle was a dream they both held.

“The four years spent here as students were the longest that Kala and I have had in one location in the last 20 years,” Jerry said. “It’s hard to call somewhere home when you’re in the military, but we would always try to visit campus whenever we were somewhat local, and this place just felt like home.”

“Coming back here was something special,” Kala said. “Things have kind of come full circle, and we’re very happy.”

*Ginger Pinholster contributed to this report.