HomeNewsArticle Display

Meet the Airmen of Wake Island

U.S Air Force Tech. Sgt. Joshua Reitz, left and Master Sgt. Yusef Saad, both contracting officers with Detachment 1, Pacific Regional Support Center, stand in front of the passenger terminal at Wake Island Airfield, July 21, 2015. A small team with four Airmen of Det. 1 supervises contractor operations and ensures missions success on the remote atoll in the Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel/Released)

Tech. Sgt. Joshua Reitz and Master Sgt. Yusef Saad, both contracting representatives with Detachment 1, Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center, stand in front of the passenger terminal at Wake Island Airfield, July 21, 2015. A small team with four Airmen from Det. 1 supervises contractor operations and ensures mission success on the remote atoll in the Pacific. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexander W. Riedel)

Wake Island, pictured as viewed from the north, was completely evacuated July 15, 2015, in preparation for Typhoon Halola closing in on the small atoll. A team with the 36th Contingency Response Group deployed from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to the atoll July 20, 2015, to assist permanently assigned airfield staff in storm recovery efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Alexander W. Riedel/Released)

Wake Island, pictured as viewed from the north, was completely evacuated July 15, 2015, in preparation for Typhoon Halola closing in on the small atoll. A team with the 36th Contingency Response Group deployed from Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, to the atoll July 20, 2015, to assist permanently assigned airfield staff in storm recovery efforts. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Alexander W. Riedel)

ANDERSEN AIR FORCE BASE, Guam (AFNS) -- About 1,500 miles east of Guam, in the middle of nowhere in the Mid-Pacific, lies the small coral limestone atoll of Wake Island.

Ahead of Guam by about two hours, a select group of four Airmen here are the first Americans to turn the calendar page every day.

The team comprises a fuels, infrastructure, acquisitions and contracting specialist. Working with civilian contractors, they ensure the airfield is run properly and all organizations using the island have mission-essential resources.

The Wake Island mission

Seemingly lost at sea, this tiny island paradise may just be one of the Air Force's best kept assignment secrets. The calm on the airfield, however, may be misleading. From the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, numerous organizations use the island as research ground or waypoint at certain times of the year.

"We are essentially an air bridge for the Pacific," said Master Sgt. Yusef Saad, the lead contracting officer representative with Detachment 1, Pacific Air Forces Regional Support Center. "We have numerous transports that travel through Wake Island and we serve as a hub location for in-flight emergencies, when aircraft need to divert. We are strategically positioned nearly perfectly in the middle of the Pacific. It's a perfect location for this mission."

But their job description is only the core of what the Airmen are tasked to handle. The far flung location, hours away from any support agencies, requires the island teams to be largely self-sufficient.

"Every day is a challenge and brings something new that you were either ready for or not," Saad said. "It is challenging at times because I don't think a lot of people know we are here. Sometimes we have military flights coming in and the aircrew meets us as we process their arrival, and they'll be surprised and ask us whether we actually live here."

The demanding mission and self-reliance is part of the mission for the select few who are chosen for duty on Wake Island.

"Our mission is unique in the Air Force," said Tech. Sgt. Joshua Reitz, a Det. 1 civil engineer contracting officer representative. "Yes, we work our normal days in the office, but we also stand ready 24/7. If there is an issue that arises on the island, we're the ones to get the call and we have to take care of it.

"Even if we have no experience with it, we automatically have to get experienced and take care of it, because nobody is going to do it for us," Reitz continued. "I have to have at least a working knowledge of all aspects of mine and other career fields. Every day brings something different and I enjoy that challenge."

For the commander of the team, Maj. Ronald Dion, an acquisitions officer by trade, taking care of the mission is only part of the work on Wake Island.

"I fill a logistics officer position, but it is so much more than that," Dion said. "In a way (the Air Force team) is the security on island, we're peace officers and we even occasionally host distinguished visitors among other duties. There is a lot that we do that goes beyond our normal career fields."

Even far beyond the horizon of the next base, the military routine for the Airmen continues even to the far reaches of the ocean, to include meetings, physical fitness and promotion testing.

There are regular inspections, teleconferences with their home station at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, and other entities that have a footprint on the island. The team also works from Tuesday to Saturday, matching the West Coast's regular work week.

"We get up in the morning, work out, then put on the uniform and get to work," Saad said. "At the office, plenty of emails are usually waiting for us to respond because our morning here is already the evening for the West Coast."

Personal challenges

To some, an assignment to quiet Wake Island may seem like a lottery win. A pristine, turquoise lagoon stretches along the flightline and opens to the hushed reef break in the distance. Beside the military footprint, the island is nearly unchanged from decades ago. There is no traffic, no pollution and no line at the grocery store.

Only, there is no grocery store at all -- only a small company store that opens a few times a week, carrying assorted snacks, drinks and toiletries. There’s also a souvenir shop that occasionally opens when aircrews leave the airfield, allowing buyers to prove their visit to this unlikely duty station.

To spend their off-duty time, the Airmen fish, scuba dive and comb the beach for historic items, marine life and the occasional swept up curiosities. When necessary they also have to use some of their time to battle the nearly unrestrained rat population on the 2.9 square mile island. According to a recent survey, 2.5 million rats are currently roaming the atoll as a result of the eradication of a feral cat population in 2006.

"It's pretty remote around here," Dion said. "There isn't much entertainment, no base exchange, commissary or other services. It can be a challenge."

Mail only arrives about twice a month per rotator flights, and for their personal use, island workers rely on a slow dial-up internet connection reminiscent of the early days of the internet.

Internet phone calls are thus nearly impossible and even emails are slow to send.

With a wife and three daughters back home, Reitz said this makes it sometimes difficult to man an island thousands of miles away from home -- but family support keeps morale up and the Airman motivated.

"I've been on a number of temporary duty assignments and deployments during my career, so my wife is pretty much a pro at this," he said. "When I'm gone she picks up the work and totally takes care of everything. And when the assignment is over, we'll get back to real life."

The days without aircraft visits or projects to coordinate can be slow, however, turning some days into a personal challenge of a different kind.

"Wake Island defined to a point ... it's groundhog day," said Saad, who is closing in on the end of his yearlong tour. "People see the pictures and wished they were here. And in the first few days after arriving here you're excited. But you're very isolated from the world. You don't know some of the things you take for granted until you're away for a while."

On the shores of history

While Wake Island now is a quiet ocean paradise with languidly rolling waves touching its shores, during World War II, it was fiercely fought over as a strategic waypoint for airpower in the Pacific. To this day, unexploded ordnances are found along the atoll's shores.

In 1943, during the height of the conflict, 98 American civilian workers who had been held prisoner on Wake Island were killed in captivity. Today, an almost unchanged number of American and Thai civilian contractors again work to maintain and operate the island's airfield.

"We're a part of history," Saad said. "This island and base have a lot of history. Knowing we are part of that history is special. We're assigned to Wake Island and not a lot of people can say that."

For major holidays Airmen and contractors gather at "Drifter's Reef," the only bar and the only gastronomy establishment in addition to the dining facility. People bring food to the bar and share in highly anticipated bingo nights.

Sharing life with those braving the isolation of Wake Island, Saad said, will be one of his favorite memories of this special assignment.

"We're family," Saad said. "Even though everybody kind of has their group, we stick together. This is our home."

Until their tour is over, the Airmen wake up on Wake Island, ready to bridge the empty vastness that is the Pacific Ocean during emergencies and contingencies. When the time comes, they are the closest refueling and repair station in more than a thousand miles in each direction.

"It's a once in a lifetime experience, because travel to the island is extremely restricted," Reitz said. "Only few have even heard of Wake and there is only a select few who really know what it's like to be here. It's an awesome feeling to experience that."

Engage

Twitter
To bridge the gap between #AirForce and installation-level efforts, @HQ_AFMC has established a Major Command Barrie… https://t.co/hGrYi8PoXf
Twitter
RT @SecAFOfficial: Secretary Kendall addressed the #NationalDiscussion on Sexual Assault & Sexual Harassment today, speaking on the need to…
Twitter
A fire suppression system using rapid-expanding foam is tested in a hangar at Sumpter Smith Joint National Guard Ba… https://t.co/j2hvbvsAzF
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: Our Airmen, Guardians, and Civil Servants have much to be proud of—their actions saved lives in Afghanistan and our country…
Twitter
#Airmen from the 2nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron load a Mk-62 Quickstrike naval mine onto a B-52 Stratofortress d… https://t.co/jaPVcg9tWa
Twitter
#DYK Today is not only Labor Day, but also #NationalReadABookDay? @GenCQBrownJr curates a Leadership Library contai… https://t.co/uITBg82KvC
Twitter
Today is #LaborDay. This holiday is an annual celebration of the social and economic achievements of American worke… https://t.co/qijLG5cjBI
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: This Labor Day, I want to highlight a couple of our teammates at the Pentagon that help us accomplish our mission. Thank yo…
Twitter
RT @DeptofDefense: Happy #LaborDay! Today, we celebrate both the achievements and resilience of America’s workers. https://t.co/3f8CBUkmqA
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: Thank you for all you do for our great nation and Air Force. Happy Labor Day Weekend, stay safe. https://t.co/5L67tcVYcl
Twitter
The Air Force Civil Engineer Center plans to expand its Rapid Airfield Damage Repair training, by opening two more… https://t.co/fAKDYzIn0v
Twitter
Staff Sgt. Angela Martinez is an @EielsonAirForce operations manager by trade, but during a Base Resiliency Exercis… https://t.co/NEkZLjMRtY
Twitter
The Air Force Test Pilot School graduated its Enlisted Test Professional Course for the first time since 2018. The… https://t.co/fnDQKAtcQ0
Twitter
Within 24 hours, @RamsteinAirBase's Southside Fitness Center Annex was transformed into a field hospital, complete… https://t.co/VQwoIV29EU
Twitter
710th Security Forces Squadron Airmen stationed @Buckley_SFB, Colo., conducted heavy weapons training at Fort Carso… https://t.co/wbpjoAKXXo
Twitter
RT @GenCQBrownJr: As we begin our Labor Day weekend, remember to lookout for your wingman, spend some quality time with your family and fri…
Twitter
RT @UnderSecAF: As members of the nation’s Armed Forces, our Airmen and Guardians must be able to respond to situations around the globe—be…
Twitter
Slooooooow it down U.S. military members prepare for the beginning of Thracian Summer 2021 at Cheshnegirovo drop zo… https://t.co/OatiVE6j7F
Twitter
RT @AFSOUTH: #AFSOUTH vice commander, Brig. Gen. Sean Choquette, co-piloted a @FuerzaAereaCol AH-60L Arpia helicopter today as part of exer…
Twitter
Department of the Air Force announces mandatory COVID vaccine implementation guidelines for Airmen, Guardians. https://t.co/Arfo5d4yOe
Facebook
The newest Air Force Podcast recently dropped. Listen to a small snippet of CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright talk with Staff Sgt. New about resiliency. Listen to the entire podcast on Youtube: https://go.usa.gov/xpnAD or Subscribe to The Air Force Podcast on iTunes: https://podcasts.apple.com/podcast/the-air-force-podcast/id1264107694?mt=2
Facebook
Our mantra, "Always ready!" It's the spirit we fly by! #B2Tuesday
Facebook
Need some motivation to get your week started off right? Listen as CMSAF Kaleth O. Wright weighs in...
Facebook
The U.S. Air Force Academy gives its cadets some unique opportunities. Ride along one of this opportunities.
Facebook
A United States Air Force KC-135 Stratotanker refuels an F-22 Raptor over northern Iraq, Nov. 6, 2019. U.S. Central Command operations deter adversaries and demonstrate support for allies and partners in the region. (Video by Staff Sgt. Daniel Snider)
Facebook
Although the Silver Star is the third-highest military medal, it's not given often. Today, TSgt Cody Smith was the 49th Special Tactics Airman to receive this medal since Sept. 11th, 2001. Read more of TSgt Smith's amazing story: https://www.airforcespecialtactics.af.mil/News/Article-Display/Article/2024815/special-tactics-airman-battled-through-injuries-awarded-silver-star/fbclid/IwAR2LZWwx1VHdTnQe39rIEBOuJS_0JvMQBBGt7I-E6zsxxn-Lx9387yu43Bc/ Cannon Air Force Base Air Force Special Operations Command United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) U.S. Department of Defense (DoD)
Facebook
Tune in as our Air Force musicians along with other military musicians are awarded the National Medal of Arts.
Facebook
Like Us
Twitter
1,373,390
Follow Us