By Scott Prater
Capt. Travis Moyer glanced over his shoulder only to notice a sea turtle making a beeline straight for his head. A quick maneuver to the side averted a collision and left Moyer smirking at the creature as it swam by harmlessly.
“The sea turtles like to harass you,” said Moyer, 1st Space Operations Squadron payload systems operator. “They’ll even hang out at the edge of the tank and try to block you from getting out. They kind of tease that way, but it’s all in good fun. They have their own personality, like pretty much every other animal in the sea.”
Moyer would know. He volunteers at least one day a month as a scuba diver for Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, feeding everything from sharks to sea turtles to fluorescent green eels.
A native of San Diego, Calif., Moyer grew accustomed to the water and sea creatures at an early age, learning to surf, boogie board and scuba dive from his father, who also held an affinity for lobster diving.
It’s easy to understand how he could develop such an interest based on his upbringing, except he’s not biased toward sea creatures. He also spends at least two days a month caring for grizzly bears, gray wolves, mountain lions, moose, porcupines and other animals as a volunteer at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo.
Most of his work at the zoo involves cleaning, which doesn’t seem to bother the young captain because it also brings him face-to-face with exotic animals, albeit through the protection of a cage.
“I sought out volunteer work at the zoo because I’ve always been interested in wolves,” he said. “It seems the more I experience, the more I want to experience. These animals aren’t domesticated. When you get within six inches of a mountain lion they’ll growl and hiss at you. It can be intimidating.”
At the aquarium, there’s no cage separation and most of the time none is needed, but three months ago, Moyer witnessed first-hand just how intimidating a shark can be.
“I was feeding in a large tank when one of the five-foot-long eels decided to bite a nearby shark,” he said. “The shark responded by snatching the other end of the eel with its jaws. My first reaction was to pull the eel out, but I thought better of it once the shark began swinging it around like a rag doll. Most of the time, the sharks are rather docile, but in that instance you really gain an understanding as to how powerful they can be. You just back away.”
Working with exotic animals and sea creatures brings its own unique benefits, but it also helps Moyer escape from the routine of military life.
“It’s my way out of thinking about work,” he said. “Some folks like to ride their bike or play a sport, but this gets me out of Air Force mode. It’s just something completely different … and there’s always something going on. Every day I go into the aquarium or the zoo, I’m being told to watch out for this behavior from a certain animal or that a wolf is about to give birth or a new bear is being introduced. It’s really educational.”
He considers himself a quiet person. As a result, some in 1 SOPS have no idea how interesting his life outside of work can be.
“Most people don’t realize that he holds bachelor’s degrees in both electrical engineering and economics, is working on his master’s in finance and still has time to volunteer at the aquarium and the zoo,” said his coworker 1st Lt. Sarah Stewart, 1 SOPS. “You could see him walk in for a swing shift and have no idea that he just spent the day feeding sharks.”
His squadron commander, Lt. Col. Mike Manor, on the other hand, believes Moyer’s interests have had a funny way of showing up in his work performance.
“As a payload operator he remains consistently calm and collected no matter the challenge he’s up against,” Manor said. “I think he lives up to that southern California persona and brings a great balance of professionalism and ‘dude’ attitude to our squadron mix.”
When it comes to exotic animals and sea creatures, Moyer considers himself an ambassador to the general public. He helps get the word out to people that by going to the zoo and the aquarium they are supporting animals.
April is National Volunteer Month. For those who have considered volunteering at the Cheyenne Mountain Zoo or Denver’s Downtown Aquarium, Moyer says the process can be complicated and somewhat costly, but he directs them to visit the official websites for both (www.cmzoo.org and http://www.aquariumrestaurants.com/downtownaquariumdenver/default.asp).