By Halle Thornton
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
When global positioning systems, or GPS, are mentioned, cell phones and car navigation flood the mind.
For Senior Airman Michael Fruit, 2nd Space Operations Squadron satellite systems operator, GPS means keeping the family farm afloat.
Although he was born in a small town in Texas, Fruit has worked on his family’s farm in Emporia, Kansas, since he was 11-years old.
“I obtained a tractor permit at 12 and a driver’s license at 14,” he said. “I was driving vehicles the size of houses when I was 12. That’s not something you see every day.”
During the fall and summer months, Fruit would help his grandfather, Dan Fruit, cultivate and harvest wheat, soy beans and corn.
“It was his (Dan’s) dream to do what he does since the 40’s and 50’s,” Michael said.
In 2008, Michael and his grandfather began utilizing a new GPS system, which helps take the “what-if” scenarios out of farming, providing increased accuracy and efficiency.
“It became a whole different way of farming,” Michael said. “It wasn’t cheap, but it put more technology into it than just your average eyesight.”
The system also helps with land erosion, and gives the farmer an estimate of how many bushels each acre of land is expected to produce.
“It is set up to where it shows plant rates, so I know how much seed is going in as we plant,” Dan said. “It also sets up the guidance, so we don’t have any rows too wide or too narrow.”
Michael added machines are now able to do four times as much work in a quarter of the time thanks to GPS.
“In farming you have windows, and if you don’t hit those windows, you’re losing crops,” he said. “That could be the difference of thousands of dollars.”
Eighty years old, Michael’s grandfather wakes up every morning to take care of the farm to this day.
“He (Dan) realized this past year he is not a young man anymore,” Michael laughed. “He has a bad back and hip, but is still able to do what he does because of technology.”
Michael expressed appreciation for the wisdom his grandfather bestows upon him.
“He saved his life savings to do what he loves,” Michael said. “Since 1998, he has been farming. It’s nice to see his expectations of me and they have kept me motivated to improve myself.”
Dan shared a similar appreciation for Michael who enjoys being on the farm and lending a hand.
“I just like having him around,” Dan said. “He was a novice and he’s learned quite a lot.”
Michael said farming gives him a sense of heritage, taking to heart the advice his grandfather gives him.
“I always get a different perspective when I listen to him talk farming,” Michael said. “‘Work smarter, not harder,’” he tells me. “Our generation seems to want to get to this point of making it work, no matter how, but I always keep the insight and wisdom from my grandfather.”
As part of the farming community, Michael said precision and accuracy play a huge role in the outcome and success of a farm.
“Time is literally money in the farming community,” he said.“ It just so happens that timing for GPS is what helps us attain that.”
Michael added farmers’ livelihoods depend on the work he now does with 2nd SOPS.
“Could they make it work? Yes, but over the last three years, we have been able to improve profits 20 to 30 percent based on timing. You can look at the books and say ‘hey, GPS did that.’
“This is a real-life application for GPS, and we are able to provide it to your average Joe.”
As an SSO, Michael has worked with a different side of GPS on a day-to-day basis at Schriever since May 2013.
“I love the people; they know what’s important about this job,” Michael said. “I show up to work and I’m appreciated by the chain of command and the guys down range. Most users don’t understand what it takes to make it (GPS) work, and these people do.”
When away from the farm, Michael appreciates having people to work long hours with and count on for anything.
“They are your family away from your family,” he said. “I’ve truly enjoyed being a user of GPS not just on the tactical standpoint. It’s made me fully understand and respect all the responsibilities required of what we have to do every day to provide to others.”
Michael said being on the farm is like therapy, and he hopes to take over the farm with his wife, Alyssa.
“It’s something that you own that no one else has, and it’s your own motivation,” he said. “You are just counting on yourself to provide. We work as a team, just like in the military. As long as we have each other, we can make anything work.”