Alumnus Marvin Sutton has carried his military service with him since the age of 17, making it the foundation of who he is today.
“It taught me how to work with people who taught me how to work through challenges,” he said. “So it actually prepared me for the next step, my next career.”
The Air Force veteran and current Arlington city councilman was awarded the Congressional Veteran Commendation Award at the Nov. 5 Arlington City Council meeting.
Congressman Ron Wright presented Sutton the award and said it recognizes veterans who continue to serve through either volunteering or in elected office after their time in the military.
“The underlying theme is [that] they have a very pronounced dedication to public service after they leave the military,” he said. “They’ve already served their country in uniform, and now they’re serving out of uniform.”
Wright said the award isn’t anything new, but Sutton was the first person in Texas’ sixth congressional district to receive the award. Wright serves the sixth district, which includes Arlington and Mansfield.
He said anything Sutton gets involved in, he tries to make a difference, and the choice to make him the first person in the district to receive the award was an easy one.
Sutton said he was surprised to receive the award, and when he saw his wife and Wright enter the council chambers, he knew something was up.
“The look on his face was priceless,” Wright said.
Originally from Moultrie, Georgia, Sutton said there weren’t many jobs in his hometown, and people went up toward Atlanta for jobs or college.
Instead, he decided to enlist in the military.
Sutton served in the Air Force from 1980 to 1988, transitioning into an air traffic controller position in 1983.
After visiting a control tower and learning about the job, he soon found his future profession.
“It was like you were on top of the world,” he said. “You had a front row seat at the real action that takes place, and I was really impressed.”
After exiting military service in 1988, Sutton went into the Federal Aviation Administration Air Traffic Controller Academy in Oklahoma City. Upon completing training, he said he was assigned to the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center and served there for 30 years.
Air traffic controller Randy Vegely said he met Sutton in 2000, when he started working at the Fort Worth Air Route Traffic Control Center.
“We used to always joke with each other about being our brother’s keeper and stuff, and man, he truly was,” he said. “If you needed something, you could count on [Sutton], and he’d be there for you.”
Vegely said Sutton made sure all the veterans in the building had a hat on Veterans Day with their respective military branch. Sutton would also buy plaques for retiring employees and have them framed and signed by co-workers, he said.
“He did that out of his own pocket,” he said. “Never asked anybody for any money.”
Even though Sutton maintained a full-time job, he decided to pursue higher education to show his children the opportunities that an education could provide.
“It would give them at least an idea or an attained idea to go to school for their education,” he said.
Sutton graduated from Tarrant County College in 2000 with an associate degree in accounting. Accounting fascinated him, he said, and he was used to working with numbers as an air traffic controller, so it fit perfectly.
He then followed up and enrolled at UTA in 2002, graduating in 2005 with a bachelor’s degree in accounting. Sutton said school was challenging but rewarding with him balancing classwork, raising children and still working full-time as an air traffic controller.
Accounting professor Tom Hall taught Sutton at UTA and said he might have been his best undergraduate student that semester.
Sutton always came to class prepared and ready to learn, he said. He even managed to start study groups with his fellow classmates.
“He really stood out, no doubt about it,” Hall said.
After graduating from UTA, Sutton continued working full-time as an air traffic controller until he retired in October 2018.
According to the Federal Aviation Administration website, there is a mandatory retirement age of 56 for air traffic controllers.
Sutton said he would have preferred to continue working because of how unique the profession is. However, the time allowed him to dedicate himself to pursuing politics full time.
He was elected to the Arlington City Council in May 2019. However, it wasn’t his first venture into politics.
Sutton ran for Arlington City Council and lost in 2007, 2009 and 2011. He said he took 2013 off to reevaluate and see if he wanted to run further.
He ran again and lost in 2015 and 2017. However, the 2017 election went into a runoff and even though he lost, it encouraged Sutton to run again in 2019 because of how close the election was.
Marvin Sutton, along with his wife and alumna Raquel Sutton, walked door to door campaigning and talking to over 2,000 people in the 2019 General Election.
“It lets you know [that] determination, hard work [does] pay off; never giving up, never taking no for an answer,” he said. “That was part of the military training, always fight to the end.”
Sutton works hard to get to the bottom of issues and respond to people personally, councilman Andrew Piel said.
“We may not always agree, but I always know we’ll be honest with each other, and in both our hearts we truly want what’s best for each other and the people we serve,” he said.
Piel said he’s happy to call Sutton a friend.
“I’m thankful that he has the glad heart of a faithful servant, and that good heart will always outweigh any obstacles,” he said.
Sutton said receiving the Congressional Veteran Commendation Award was nice, but the mission to serve others continues.
“I think the biggest honor of service is being able to serve others,” he said. “No commendation, no piece of paper can change that. Whether you get it or not, it doesn’t matter, it’s the fact that I’m able to serve.”