Navy veteran reflects on how military service prepared him to serve the Sugar Land community 

You could say aviation was in Sugar Land Assistant Director of Aviation Ken Durbin’s genes. 

Durbin built his first aircraft in his backyard when he was 8 years old — an ultralight aircraft with a 30-horsepower engine with a 36-inch balsa wood prop. 

Born in Arkansas, Durbin moved around a lot thanks to his dad’s military service in the United States Navy. The Durbin’s eventually settled in Corpus Christi where Durbin said he was a “troubled youth who kept doing a lot of false starts in college.” 

“Tuition was ridiculously low back then,” Durbin said. “I think I wasted my dad’s $174 check. I would go to college, and I would sit there and play backgammon. After four years of running with the wrong crowd, one day I called in sick and everybody else (I was hanging out with) got arrested. At that point, I thought, ‘I’m wrecking this.’ I’m going to need help. And the Navy saved my life.” 

Durbin started off at what he describes as the lowest rank you can be, mopping floors on the USS Saratoga. While there, he learned what he didn’t want to do for the Navy and exactly what he wanted to do – be a pilot.  

Ken Durbin during his time as a pilot in the U.S. Navy.

“You have this camaraderie (moving through the ranks),” Durbin said. “You’re not alone in your misery. And then you create these friendships that, 35 years later, are still with you. And you realize that it wasn’t all that bad.” 

Before long, he was taking classes and getting promoted through the ranks on his way to becoming a pilot. He even ended up back in Corpus Christi to complete his flight training. Durbin went to 38 countries during his service, mostly in Europe and the Western Pacific, racking up about 3,000 flight hours before retiring in 2010. 

After retiring, Durbin went to work as a government contractor working on weapons systems acquisition. But he said the real transition to civilian life happened when he and his wife decided to follow their grandkids to Texas and took a job at the Home Depot.  

Then, after a year working at Home Depot, a job as the Aviation Airfield and Facilities Maintenance Manager at the Sugar Land Regional Airport caught his attention. He applied and got it.  

“This job is an answer to a prayer,” Durbin said. “All the Navy stuff was eating your cake before you have to eat your broccoli. But working here isn’t broccoli – it’s cake.”  

Durbin was eventually promoted to assistant director of aviation and said that serving his country is on par with serving his city.  

“It was an honor to serve,” Durbin said. “I felt very fortunate to be allowed to fly a $22 million aircraft that was built by great Americans … And working here, I can’t believe the depth of talent that we have working for this City. Everyone that works here is dedicated to serving people and just want to help others. To me, it’s just not possible that we have this kind of margin of greatness.” 

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