Senior NCO steps ‘out of the box,’ ends up in China

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
  • Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Operating Location - P
(This feature is part of the "Through Airmen's Eyes" series on These stories focus on a single Airman, highlighting their Air Force story.)

When Master Sgt. John Ware goes to work, he doesn’t wear a blue uniform with ribbons and rank insignias nor a camouflage pattern.

Instead, he wears a plain business suit.

Ware is an operations NCO for the Defense Attaché Service, or DAS, assigned to U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong, China, where he provides support functions to the Defense Attaché Office mission.

According to Ware, the DAS is designed to build and sustain key international relationships that enable the Department of Defense’s global operations. Airmen who work in these offices are military diplomats, working side by side with Department of State and other government agencies at U.S. Embassies and Consulates abroad.

This support includes a laundry list of responsibilities, including coordinating U.S. Naval ship visits and U.S. military aircraft clearances with host country officials, processing personnel clearances, providing logistical support of joint U.S.-host nation military exercises, and finally, directing support of distinguished visitors, to include the president of the United States.

“Every day brings a new and exciting challenge,” Ware said. “In many countries that don’t have a U.S. military base or presence, we do have a Defense Attaché office located at the U.S. Embassy that directly supports every DOD mission that crosses their borders -- whether by air, land or sea.”

With this new and exciting challenge comes the need for Ware and his family to adapt to life outside of the United States.

Ware’s place of work isn’t on an Air Force base surrounded by a military town. When he walks past local shops, there aren’t signs in the windows boasting military discounts. When his wife goes shopping for their family’s groceries, her local base exchange is countries away.

“There are no U.S. military bases, no BX (Base Exchange), no commissary, no support facilities, no MWR (Morale Wellness and Recreation office), and no base hospitals,” he said.

This culture change has brought Ware’s family closer together, along with his teammates at work, he said.

“We are a small, self-sufficient, tight-knit team that takes care of each other,” Ware said. “We live like a local, shop like a local, and find recreation options like a local. This can be both difficult and exciting.”

China was not the first new and exciting opportunity for Ware. His first DAS assignment to India presented some different obstacles, especially during his commute to work.

“In India, it was not uncommon to have a cow blocking the driveway, or for monkeys to jump in the yard to tease the dogs,” Ware said. “Traffic looked like the scariest thing you could ever imagine.”

Yet, monkeys weren’t the only challenges Ware encountered.

Three months on the job, acting as the sole operations NCO in Mumbai, India, Ware was tasked to support the arrival of President Barack Obama, which included coordinating all U.S government aircraft arrivals, departures, and ground support.

Ware refers to this day as the day he learned the most on the job.

“One such aircraft arrived in Mumbai at the International Airport on a local holiday, so the airport flightline pass office was closed,” Ware said. “I had pre-arranged for the passes, but they were not delivered on time. I now had a vital aircrew and security team that were required to rotate shifts at their aircraft for security and alert missions, but couldn’t do so without a pass due to local rules.”

This situation presented a significant security risk, and Ware had to move quickly and think critically.

“I started scouting the airport for solutions, and found potential at a local commercial airline’s hangar,” Ware explained. “I requested a meeting with the general manager of the company. I diplomatically worked out a plan and agreement with him where we could park the aircraft at his company’s hangar and therefore grant aircraft access to the aircrew and security team by utilizing the company’s private entry control point.

“I worked about 20 straight hours that day, and we kept the mission on track successfully until the pass office opened the next day,” he said. “This was a real eye opener to me of how flexible and innovative we sometimes have to be in daily operations. We truly do have to make it happen.”

Though the attaché community wasn’t always on Ware’s radar, working in a joint service community that encourages innovation and presents challenges was.

“I’ve always desired a special duty in the joint environment that was outside the box for my professional growth,” said Ware, who has been in the Air Force for 20 years. “This special duty has made me a better Airman by exposing me to a joint environment where I have learned skills from Soldiers, Sailors, Marines and Airmen from all different professional backgrounds.”

Before applying for this duty, Ware had little to no knowledge of the Defense Attaché Service.

“Ten years ago I didn’t know that it existed,” he said. “I never knew anything about the Defense Attaché Service until one day I was searching AMS (the assignment management systems) for special duties. I saw an advertisement for the U.S Embassy in New Delhi, India, and I thought ‘Wow, now that’s way outside the box.’”

This out of the box challenge, coupled with unique challenges he’s seldom faced, has made Ware’s two assignments in China and India a growing experience, and one he said he very much values.

“My Defense Attaché Service assignments in India and now Hong Kong have absolutely been the best assignments in my 20-year career,” he said. “Although challenging, this duty is even more so rewarding, and the skills you obtain will fill your toolbox with items you may have never imagined possible. I wouldn’t give up the experience for anything.”