Friday, March 02, 2018

Face of Defense: Immigrant Airman Forges Intercultural Friendships

By Air Force Tech. Sgt. Benjamin Stratton, 35th Fighter Wing

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan, March 2, 2018 — An intelligence analyst by day and cultural envoy by night, Air Force Master Sgt. Cesar “Vinny” Ventura grew up as one of four bilingual siblings in a Hispanic immigrant family in Los Angeles, California.

"Mijo, can you come tell me what they're saying to me?" his mom would ask in Spanish.

His parents didn't speak English, so they relied on Vinny and his brothers to translate for them while running errands around town.

"Sí," he'd respond. "They said, 'Thank you!'"

Those trips around town taught him the importance of understanding intercultural communication. He spent a lot of time exploring comics and graphic novels for the easy reading and eventually discovered anime in high school.

"I liked it [anime] so much I wanted to watch it without the subtitles, so I just learned Japanese," he said. "Today, every country I visit, I learn the basics of their language and culture, so I can really connect with them according to their communication preferences."

Lifelong Preparation

Ventura said his whole life, from his childhood in Los Angeles to a brief stint in the Navy from 1997-2001, and then enlisting in the Air Force in 2003, prepared him for his assignment here. He's built partnerships with complete strangers, many of whom have become like family.

He now serves as a vertical inspections planner with the 35th Fighter Wing's inspector general's office. In this capacity, he organizes, trains and oversees the wing inspector general's inspection team. It's not this job, though, that earned him respect among his Japanese counterparts.

The Misawa veteran dedicated hundreds of hours forging friendships and strengthening the U.S.-Japan security alliance over the past four years with airmen with the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s 3rd Air Wing, earning him the Special Class Award from the JASDF Area Defense Command, Dec. 13.

"His contributions to our bilateral relationship far exceed anything Misawa-specific-he's made an impact on the entirety of the Area Defense Command and our nation," said JASDF Warrant Officer Tsuyoshi Endo, former 6th Air Defense Missile Group chief and former Senior Noncommissioned Officer Association president.

From planning bilateral dining-outs and tug-of-war competitions to helping JASDF Airmen win English language competitions in Tokyo, Ventura's deep understanding of his host nation's language and culture cemented relationships and netted him two lifelong friends.

Building a Family

"Vinny-san is like family to me," said JASDF Warrant Officer Junji Miura, the 3rd Air Wing command chief. "He's part of our inner circle. He always tells us, 'If you ever need anything, just ask,' and that same sentiment is absolutely true for us. He can call us at any time, day or night, and we'll be there for him."

Miura and Endo hold Ventura in such high regard he's met their spouses, and their spouses have met his wife. He's even cooked his favorite Italian dish for them.

"It was delicious!" Miura said. "He really can cook!"

The two warrant officers aren't the only Japanese he's developed close friendships with at Misawa. There are many similar stories, all leading back to his dedication to enhancing quality of life initiatives and resiliency for airmen.

"I like to see and experience other countries’ militaries and how they operate," he explained. "Learning their language is a key part to that experience. My intelligence analyst training made it easier and helped me better decipher the intricacies of each language I've encountered."

Ventura likened it to self-aid buddy care training where airmen learn basic medical combat survival skills.

"We do it so often in preparation for the real deal that now it just comes so natural," he said. "Language is the same way. When it comes to understanding language and culture, you really can't have one without the other; it's better for both sides if we embrace both as one."

Constant Learning

Not only can Ventura speak Japanese fluently, but he's also learned some 400 of the roughly 1,200 kanji characters in the Japanese writing system.

"I pick up something new every time I go off base or interact with my Japanese friends," he said.

One friend, Noriko Ohtani, who works in the U.S. Relations Section at the 3rd Air Wing, said Vinny is her 911 emergency contact, "Always!"

"When I first came to Misawa, I had never worked with the Ministry of Defense," she said. "It scared me, really, honestly, but after talking with Vinny-san, he helped me realize I didn't need to be scared. I felt comfortable talking with other military members from that day forward."

Thanks to Ventura, Ohtani said, she's been successful in her position here and been able to build really strong relations with other U.S. service members.

"I'm just so thankful we met," she added.

With a tearful grin, Endo echoed Ohtani's sentiment saying, "I'm super, super, super … appreciative of everything Vinny-san has done for me, my family and my airmen. Even after I retire next month, and he moves on to his next assignment, I would like to keep this relationship going. I can't imagine a world where we're no longer friends."

Finding it hard to say the right words, Miura gestures at Endo signaling he agrees, "He's like family."

Airmen Keep F-16 Fighting Falcons Rolling

By Air Force Senior Airman Christopher Maldonado, 20th Fighter Wing

SHAW AIR FORCE BASE, S.C., March 2, 2018 — Tucked away inside Hangar 1200 here, a small group of airmen work around-the-clock on the equipment that literally keeps the F-16CM Fighting Falcon rolling.

This cluster of airmen, assigned to the 20th Equipment Maintenance Squadron wheel and tire flight, perform various types of maintenance on the wheel and tire infrastructure of Shaw’s 79 F-16s.

“An average week we will receive 10 to 15 wheels.” said Air Force Airman 1st Class Alexis Barrera, a 20th EMS wheel and tire team member.

The F-16 has two types of wheels: the main wheels, located about mid-way along the plane’s undercarriage, and the nose wheel.

“Each wheel serves its own purpose,” said Air Force Airman 1st Class William Miller, a 20th EMS wheel and tire team member. “The main, which are the back wheels, will absorb the brunt of the force when landing. The nose will serve as a supporter and will not take as much of the force.”

Keeping the Wheels Turning

Both types of wheels require different forms of maintenance to ensure they can function to the best of their ability.

“We need to ensure that all the wheels and tires are up-to-date and in regulations,” Miller said. “If these pieces of equipment are not properly maintained, the possibility of an aircraft having an unsafe landing will increase.”

Equipment such as the F-16 bead breaker and the tire inflation safety guard allow these airmen to perform necessary maintenance on the aircraft wheels and tires.

The bead breaker uses hydraulic pressure to disassemble and assemble a tire from its rim, allowing airmen to replace or inspect inbound and outbound tires. The tire inflation safety guard, otherwise known as “the cage,” allows the airmen to safely inflate and deflate the tires while monitoring pressure gauges in the machine.

“These pieces of equipment aid us in the assembly, disassembly, cleaning and repair of the wheels,” Barrera said. “Without these machines, our mission here would be hindered.”
By keeping the wheels turning, these airmen support the 20th Fighter Wing mission by ensuring the safety of the pilots and the F-16s they maneuver. With every landing and take-off, these airmen leave their mark on the wing -- and the pavement below.

Connecting ‘Eyes in the Sky’ to Boots on the Ground

By Air Force Airman 1st Class Tristan Viglianco, 9th Reconnaissance Wing

BEALE AIR FORCE BASE, Calif., March 2, 2018 — The RQ-4 Global Hawk is a remotely piloted high-altitude intelligence gathering aircraft capable of flying more than 30 hours straight.

The ability to remotely pilot the aircraft is made possible by a unique group of maintainers in the 9th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron, known as the 9th Aircraft Communications Maintenance Unit.

According to Air Force Staff Sgt. John Brummett, 9th ACMU ground communication segment maintenance noncommissioned officer, there are two sides of the shop: the maintenance side and the network side.

Passing Along Information

“The network portion ensures all the imagery and data coming into the shelter is passed along,” he said. “The maintenance side generates the cockpit and makes sure all the processes can reach the pilot of the Global Hawk.”

The airmen must ensure all of the communication equipment and the Mission Control Element are functioning properly.

“We maintain the data links connecting the ground segment with the aircraft,” said Air Force Senior Airman Adrian Santos, 9th ACMU ground communication segment technician. “This entails maintaining the computer systems in the MCEs, maintaining the cabling which connects the MCE with our antennas, and maintaining the data link, which connects the antenna to the satellite and forwards it to the aircraft.”

Santos said they also work inside the MCEs while real-world missions are being flown and that their role is to ensure the operators have control of the aircraft while gathering intelligence.

Relaying Intelligence

Transmitting the data to the Distributed Control Ground System on base also falls on the 9th ACMU.

The intelligence is also relayed to commanders in theater so they can make decisions.

“We provide near real-time intelligence to the warfighter,” Brummett said. “All of the imagery being actively taken is collected in the shelter and we are pushing it out to our clients, so the combatant commander can receive it in near real-time.”

The 9th ACMU airmen realize that their mission is important.
“It is a humbling feeling being out here because our job directly affects the sorties being flown and the missions being completed. We understand that doing our jobs enables us to fly real-world missions and collect information which helps us accomplish tasks we need to,” Santos said. “You can’t launch an airstrike without knowing what you're going into, and that is what we provide with our high-altitude intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.”