Colliers Engineering & Design Senior Project Surveyor Rhonda Ellison, RLS, CFS, was one of 144 Veterans selected to join HonorAir Knoxville’s Flight 31 commemorating women veterans on October 12.
As a young Air Force recruit, Rhonda began her surveying career in the military. Her love for math and the outdoors enabled her career to fall into place. She served Active Duty from 1991 to 1995 before serving in the Tennessee Air National Guard from 1995 to 1997. As her time in the military was coming to an end, Rhonda decided to continue working in the surveying profession, this time, working under licensed surveyors and learning more about boundaries.
After hearing about HonorAir Knoxville’s flight to honor women veterans and the 100th anniversary of women suffrage, Rhonda decided to apply, unsure if she would make it on board. She received the news in 2019 that she was one of 144 veterans chosen to take the trip.
The flight was originally scheduled in April of 2020 but due to the first COVID-19 outbreak, the trip was rescheduled multiple times. After one final reschedule from April of this year due to the Women’s Memorial being closed for renovations, the flight officially took off on October 12 at 7:00 a.m.
The morning of HonorAir Knoxville Flight 31 started out with a sendoff from local Girl Scout troops serving breakfast, with hundreds more of attendees, including the mayor of Knox County and Mayor of the City of Knoxville, thanking the veterans for their service. Leaving the McGee Tyson Airport and landing in D.C., the plane was tribute with water gun salutes from local fire departments.
Making the most of the time available to them in the Capitol, Rhonda says they toured a majority of the sites and monuments, saying “We went to the Air Force Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Veteran Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial and more. We saw the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The team at HonorAir Knoxville took us to as many of the memorials and sites as they could in a day.”
The flight back to Tennessee was an emotional ride, with an unexpected “Mail Call” for the Veterans on board. Rhonda’s father, who was listed as her emergency contact, was asked to write her a letter to read during their return flight. Other letters were sent to the Veterans by local schools and organizations, along with the letters sent by loved ones. Stories were also shared among the group, with Rhonda reflecting on the women who served in the 50’s and 60’s as “trailblazers for us who would come after them.”
Landing back home was a full affair, with Rhonda being greeted by CED Nashville Team Members Tommy S. Mallard, Principal Associate and Southeast Regional Director of Survey/Geospatial Services and Danny Worley Jr., PLS, RLS, Department Manager of Survey Geospatial Services and a former Army Surveyor. The Tennessee Association of Professional Surveyors Middle East Chapter also welcomed her back home. The night continued with a pep band from the University of Tennessee and handshakes, welcomes home and thanks for service for a final goodbye sendoff..
Reflecting on the special occasion, Rhonda expressed her thanks to HonorAir Knoxville and its founder, Eddie Mannis, for an incredible trip that neither herself nor the other 143 veterans had to pay for. Since the organization’s founding in 2007, 30 flights have been taken to honor over 3,800 veterans.
“It was an absolute honor to be chosen to attend the trip,” Rhonda said. “Hearing the stories from the fellow veterans, and seeing how much this experience meant to them, really meant a lot. Also, seeing my colleagues from TAPS welcome me home with open arms and my CED colleagues Tommy and Danny, there welcoming us back touched my heart the most that day.”
Today as Senior Project Surveyor with CED, Rhonda works on Boundary and Topographic Surveys, ALTA’s, Civil Site layout construction projects including Vanderbilt University, Multiple Private Developers throughout Nashville, Tennessee and many of the Circle K sites in Tennessee. She also assists other managers throughout the country when they need a hand on various Survey Projects. Most recently in March of 2022, she became the first woman in Tennessee to receive her Certified Floodplain Surveyor (CFS) Certification.