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Young Airman excels, learns at Wake Island

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt Chris Vadnais
  • Air Force Print News
Super Typhoon Ioke left Wake Island in shambles. The Category 5 storm raged through the atoll Aug. 31, demolishing buildings and tossing around anything that wasn't bolted down -- and many things that were.

Assessing the damage includes some repair work, and it's a mission that calls for the most experienced of civil engineers. But don't tell that to Airman 1st Class Alex Jaime.

At 22 years old, with just two years in service, Airman Jaime is the youngest person on the Wake Island damage assessment team, which deployed from Hickam Air Force Base, Hawaii, Sept. 13.

"At first I was a little worried because it was such a big job," Airman Jaime said. "But my bosses reassured me, told me 'Hey, we've seen you work. We know you can do it,' so I came, and I'm glad I came," he said.

The team consists of mostly technical sergeants and senior NCOs, seasoned civil engineers who have assessed and repaired damage like this numerous times. Airman Jaime is the only Airman on the team.

"I deployed with Airman Jaime to (Southwest Asia) for four months, and he did an outstanding job for me over there," said team leader Senior Master Sgt. Thomas Yereance. "I had no worries in picking him for this contingency operation."

Airman Jaime's hard work -- and small stature -- have proven extremely valuable to the team. At 5 feet 2 inches, he was the only member of the team who could squeeze himself into a tight spot behind one of the island's transformers to repair it.

"Without him out here today," said Senior Master Sergeant Yereance, "we would have had to take turns trying to squeeze in there. We would have been out here for about two days to do what took us a half hour with him in there."

It's smart working like this that makes the damage assessment team so efficient. Pacific Air Forces officials are eager to know the cost of the damage on Wake Island, and every team member must use his unique qualities to get that information as quickly and safely as possible.

But as valuable as it turned out to be, Airman Jaime wasn't picked because of his size. He was picked for his attitude and work ethic.

"I wish all Airmen were like him," said Sergeant Yereance. "He's always ready to go in the morning, he'll do any job, and he's always motivated."

Airman Jaime said he feels his hard work is being rewarded on this trip. He said it's showing him a side of civil engineering he hasn't ever seen.

"These jobs are great opportunities," said Sergeant Yereance. "You learn so much out here about doing the job and doing it safely," he said. "I think this will definitely help him in the long run. When he goes to other operations he'll know what to do and he'll keep safety at the forefront."

Airman Jaime said he loves being a civil engineer, and he plans to make a career out of it. This trip will give him an idea of what to expect in the future.

"This is a big learning experience for me," said Airman Jaime. "I'm seeing a lot of what management does, assessing stuff," he said. "I never knew how much responsibility goes with the higher ranks."