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Army Sgt. Richard Mercedes interprets a conversation between Air Force Senior Airman Michael Hyer of the Ohio Air National Guard's 200th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron and Cpl. Ramon Burgos of the Dominican Republic’s army at an elementary school in La Guazara, Dominican Republic, June 2, 2014. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aaron RognstadBARAHONA, Dominican Republic – For Sgt. Richard Mercedes of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard, annual training in the Dominican Republic means a little something more this spring.

PHOTO: Army Sgt. Richard Mercedes interprets a conversation between Air Force Senior Airman Michael Hyer of the Ohio Air National Guard's 200th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron and Cpl. Ramon Burgos of the Dominican Republic’s army at an elementary school in La Guazara, Dominican Republic, June 2, 2014. U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Aaron Rognstad 
 
He's come back “home.”

Mercedes, a civil engineer with the 190th Forward Support Company, spent the first 18 years of his life in the Dominican Republic before moving to Puerto Rico with his family.

“There's a lot of emotion,” said Mercedes, who talks in a thick Caribbean Spanish accent. “To be working with the people and be part of the team that is helping them feels good.”

Mercedes stepped out of his traditional job in the to serve as a translator for his annual training, which consists of various construction projects being built by Army and Air Force engineers. Escorting his fellow soldiers and airmen to job sites surrounding the Air National Guard, Army Reserve and National Guard base of operations here, Mercedes is a vital link in bridging the language barrier and serving as a guide and subject-matter expert on the surrounding countryside.

“I'm sure I'll be very busy over these next few weeks -- lots of translating and going here and there,” he said. “Whatever they need, I'm just here to help and make things less difficult.”

On his first full day of training, Mercedes found himself in La Guazara, a small village about 20 minutes north of here. Airmen of the Air National Guard's 200th and 210th Red Horse Civil Engineering Squadron were building an addition to a small elementary school, with Mercedes translating between them and the local people.

“This is fun work,” he said. “It's not even really work for me. It's just talking to my people, getting out into the community and showing everyone that we're here to help them.”

Air Force Master Sgt. Nathan Sobieck of the 200th CES said the aid of an interpreter is an invaluable resource on these types of missions.

“It wouldn't happen without them [interpreters],” he said. “A couple of our guys know some Spanish, but to get a local [native] who is one of us is a win-win situation.”

Mercedes, 37, grew up in Barahona, the country's 15th-largest city with an estimated 75,000 people. His childhood was spent with his two younger brothers enjoying the beach, playing in the area's rivers and running, he said. He moved with his family to Puerto Rico after he graduated from high school to gain better economic prosperity. He married shortly thereafter and started a family, and he joined the Army National Guard in 2008.

He now works full-time on military orders at Puerto Rico Joint Force Headquarters in San Juan, and is working toward his bachelor's degree in business administration.

Mercedes still has relatives in the Dominican Republic: a grandmother, uncles, aunts and cousins. In fact, one of his uncles lives just two blocks from his temporary post here. He also still has friends in the country.

He said he hopes he gets to see at least one of his family members or friends, but that he understands his days will be busy and the opportunity might not present itself. With Puerto Rico only a 45-minute flight to the west, he added, he always can return if need be.

But whether or not he gets to see his family this time around, Mercedes said, he always is happy to be back in his original country, especially on an Army humanitarian mission.

“My people here are proud of me,” he said. “It feels good. I am a liaison between the U.S. military and them. I tell them that I'm from here [and] I was raised here, and they're impressed that I'm helping out here.”

Written June 4, 2014 By:
Army Sgt. Aaron Rognstad
416th Theater Engineer Command

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Forrest Jellison, a urologist, works with his surgery team during a penectomy, May 27, 2014, at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, Belize. An Air Force surgical team deployed to Belize for two weeks during a New Horizons Belize 2014 surgical readiness training exercise. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. GradisharBELIZE CITY, Belize– Deployed in support of New Horizons Belize 2014, a multifaceted exercise providing training opportunities for Belizean and U.S. medical professionals, Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Forrest Jellison is finding ways to give back.

PHOTO: Air Force Maj. (Dr.) Forrest Jellison, a urologist, works with his surgery team during a penectomy, May 27, 2014, at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital in Belize City, Belize. An Air Force surgical team deployed to Belize for two weeks during a New Horizons Belize 2014 surgical readiness training exercise. U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar 
 
"I've always wanted to give back in some way, because I know I'm fortunate for what I have," the urologist said. "I believe you have to give back to be able to have something worthwhile."

Following a number of family members into the military, Jellison said, he considered enlisting before deciding on a career path that would take him to places he never anticipated going in uniform.

He graduation from Pacific Union College in Napa Valley, California, and followed his undergraduate education with medical school at Loma Linda University Medical Center in California, where he also completed his residency. Jellison then completed a urology fellowship at the University of California, Los Angeles. He was commissioned in 2001.

After years of schooling, learning, teaching and traveling, Jellison deployed in support of New Horizons. Along with a urology and surgery team, he provided some life-saving surgeries with the assistance and coordination of the nation's sole urologist and other staff at the Karl Heusner Memorial Hospital here.

"I'm very fortunate that this is part of my job," Jellison said. "This is something that I do and want to continue doing outside of where I'm tasked to go in the military."

Jellison has previously traveled on his own dime and his own time -- to Honduras once and Mexico more than a handful of times -- for humanitarian missions.

In addition to humanitarian missions with his church, Jellison is afforded the opportunity to operate and train in an environment with fellow Air Force urologists, as well as offer a valuable training opportunity to a fourth-year urology resident.

"We've seen some complex issues and developed treatment plans with the urologist here," he said. "Every country is different, so adapting to what we have available has been a valuable training opportunity."

Overall, Jellison said, he is just glad to help.

"I like helping people," he said. "Medicine is what I do best, so this is the best way I can help."

Written June 3, 2014 By:
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Kali L. Gradishar
12th Air Force

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Air Force 2nd Lt. Kyle Wheeler once prepared weapons for F-15C Eagles as an air munitions maintenance operator. After earning a commission and completing the initial stages of learning to fly, he is now ready to climb into the cockpit and fire the weapons he once loaded. Wheeler is a Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program graduate with the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Robert McIlrath SHEPPARD AIR FORCE BASE, Texas – An airman here is well on his way to fulfilling his dream of flying the same fighter jet he once turned wrenches on.

PHOTO: Air Force 2nd Lt. Kyle Wheeler once prepared weapons for F-15C Eagles as an air munitions maintenance operator. After earning a commission and completing the initial stages of learning to fly, he is now ready to climb into the cockpit and fire the weapons he once loaded. Wheeler is a Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training program graduate with the 80th Flying Training Wing at Sheppard Air Force Base, Texas. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Robert McIlrath 
 
Air Force 2nd Lt. Kyle Wheeler, a Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program graduate from the 80th Flying Training Wing here, once prepared weapons as an Air Force enlisted air munitions maintenance operator on the F-15C Eagle.

After earning a commission and completing the initial stages of learning to fly, he is now ready to climb into the cockpit and drop the weapons he once loaded.

Wheeler said he always knew he wanted to be a pilot, but the question was when and how.

"I was always really passionate about airplanes as a kid," he said. "Growing up, I enjoyed the airplane ride to Disney World when I was 8 years old more than I really enjoyed Disney World itself. I've always had a fascination with airplanes."

Wheeler comes from a military family, with a cousin in the Air Force and a grandfather who served in the Army, so early on, he said, he knew he was going to be a part of the long blue line. Soon after graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Air Force and set out to Lackland Air Force Base, Texas, to begin his military career.

After graduation as an airman basic, Wheeler's first stop was here to start his technical training before heading out to his first assignment at Kadena Air Base, Japan. There, Wheeler set aside his ambitions to the sky for a new aspiration: to become a part of the honor guard.

"It was an extremely humbling experience," he said. "Definitely rewarding, and it was a lot of work. It was awesome."

Due to the high-profile nature of honor guard service, Wheeler met Air Force Maj. Gen. Brett Williams, who at that time commanded the 18th Wing at Kadena.

"Kyle was an exemplary member of the honor guard and a top performer in the munitions squadron," Williams said. "As I recall, he was the airman of the year during our tour, so his work ethic was obviously outstanding."

Wheeler said he loved his job and his experiences as an enlisted airman, yet he couldn't shake the lure of the skies. He knew he was going to need to keep working hard and making sacrifices to soar in the future, he added, noting that he often worked 50 to 60 hours a week juggling the honor guard and school, feeling as though his weekends were nonexistent.

Family and personal drive helped to encourage Wheeler to keep focused on his goals, he said. "I get my work ethic from my mom, I stay focused because of my wife, and I want to be a role model for my two younger brothers," he explained.

As fate would have it, Wheeler and Williams were stationed at the Pentagon at the same time, and the general began talking to Wheeler about his dreams in the skies.

"We met two or three times, and he always knew exactly what he wanted to do," Williams said.

With mentoring from Williams and his own personal drive, Wheeler said, he knew that if he was going to fly his beloved F-15 in the future, he was going to have to take a great leap of faith with a long road ahead of him.

"There were plenty of times,” he said, “where I thought, 'Holy cow, I have a year and a half left of my degree [and] I'm in a job that I really enjoy. Is this something that I want to completely give up and go and just do this?'"

Wheeler finished his bachelor's degree in May 2012 and earned his officer’s commission in August 2012 through Officer Training School at Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama. Soon after commissioning, he learned he would attend to the Euro-NATO Joint Jet Pilot Training Program here.

Through many conversations with the instructors during Wheeler's training, Williams said, his drive and commitment were evident throughout the entire 55-week pilot training program.

"The instructor told me from day one of training he knew Kyle would succeed," the general said. "He knew what he wanted, and he was willing to work as hard as required to get that F-15."

After completing the ENJJPT program, Wheeler finally walked across the stage to receive his long-dreamed-of and hard-earned pilot wings.

To top it off, Williams and Wheeler's paths crossed once more at graduation. The general is currently the director of operations for U.S. Cyber Command at Fort Meade, Maryland. Williams was able to be the guest speaker at Wheeler's graduation and present Wheeler with a set of shiny new wings.

"It was a huge honor and very humbling for me that Kyle asked me to be part of his graduation and wing pinning," Williams said. "I was very fortunate to have served as one of his mentors, and to see him succeed was very special for me."

Wheeler said he was excited to have one of his mentors there to see him succeed.

"It was surreal. It's hard to put it into words how I felt," he said. "It wasn't until I came back to work the following week, walking around -- I wasn't the same. When you walk around as a student, you go about your business. With wings, you get a certain respect, which was neat to see."

Wheeler will start the Introduction to Fighter Fundamentals Course here in August. The course trains pilots in the basics of fighter maneuvers, from air-to-air employment in offensive, defensive and high-aspect flight scenarios to close-air-support capabilities. He said he hopes other pilot-dreamers will make the step to pursue their aspirations as well.

"Hard work, perseverance and the desire will allow you to do anything you want to do in the United States Air Force,” he said. “It's the coolest job ever.”

Once Wheeler finishes training here, he will move on to specialized training in the F-15.

Written June 2, 2014 By:
Air Force 2nd Lt. Ava Margerison
82nd Training Wing

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Marine Corps Sgt. Levi J. Slife, far left, a joint terminal air controller, poses with fellow U.S. Marines and an Afghan soldier in Afghanistan in 2012. Courtesy photoCAMP HANSEN, Japan – Marine Corps Sgt. Levi J. Slife is a talker.

PHOTO: Marine Corps Sgt. Levi J. Slife, far left, a joint terminal air controller, poses with fellow U.S. Marines and an Afghan soldier in Afghanistan in 2012. Courtesy photo 
 
Slife loves to talk while he fixes his truck and motorcycle back home in Littleton, Colorado. His Marine buddies say he ran his mouth during a firefight in Afghanistan while enemy rounds were chipping away at brick walls inches above his head. His Marine comrades claim he talks like Usain Bolt runs. He talks because it’s his job -- he is a joint terminal attack controller, an instructor and a noncommissioned officer.

Slife “is very talkative, which helps when he teaches because he’s a charismatic instructor who can hold a Marine’s attention,” said Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Robert H. Cheathem, a native of Jacksonville, North Carolina, and a JTAC with Company L, Battalion Landing Team 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit. “He can identify well with the Marines he’s teaching, and he’s very knowledgeable on the job, so he can speak eloquently when Marines ask questions.”

Slife’s ability to speak clearly contributes immensely to his line of work when calling in close-air support or surface-to-surface bombardments on enemy positions. He must relay information as quickly as possible to support his Marines, and has to remember the procedures to do so.

There’s a lot to remember and lives depend on it.

Slife’s path to becoming a joint terminal attack controller began when he enlisted as a fire support man during the spring of 2007. A fire support man is trained to scout forward with an infantry unit and call in artillery or long distance indirect fire. He then became a joint fire observer and learned how to use a laser designator and how to “talk-on” close-air support during his second tour in Afghanistan in the summer of 2010.

This combined knowledge allows the fire support man to direct attack aircraft underneath the supervision of a joint terminal attack controller, who is the chief designator of close-air support ordnance and has the final say with the pilot or gunner before they commit to an attack. The responsibility of a JTAC and the amount of procedures he has to follow is critical in order for bombs and bullets to hit the right spot.

After his second tour in Afghanistan, Slife went through the fire support chief course in the summer of 2011 and became a JTAC.

“I could call close-air support from Cobras, Hueys, Apaches, Predators, Hornets, Harriers, B-2 bombers, just about any aircraft with weapons attached to it to support the company,” Slife said.

The job is difficult. Communication is a must. The difference of perspective from Slife’s position on the battlefield compared to the pilot in the sky is significant and to be in sync requires the joint terminal attack controller to speak clearly even while under stress. It also requires map study and an understanding of what the pilot might be seeing from the air.

“The hardest part of being a JTAC is doing a good talk-on,” Slife said. “There are a lot of points you have to hit without messing up. So I can’t talk too much on the radio, or it takes longer for bombs to be dropped. We call it shortening the kill chain -- from the time I start talking to the time it takes to achieve our end state.

“At the same time,” he continued, “I have to coordinate with the aircraft since we’re seeing things from two totally different perspectives. It takes maps and gridded reference graphics so I can know where I’m at and give the pilot an idea of what he’s looking for. Then we can discuss where to hit.”

Slife said he’s good at his job.

“I’m not too pompous to believe that I am the best, but this is something that I excel at in the Marine Corps,” he said. “I love it.”

One of Slife’s most memorable moments was with Battery G, 2nd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division, during his third tour in Afghanistan in the summer of 2012.

On one patrol his company began taking small-arms fire -- rifle fire, machine-gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades. During a brief lull in the attack, a concealed sniper began to harass the Marines with precision fire. At the time, there was a Predator drone in the area supporting Slife with live video through his laptop. Monitoring his computer, Slife noticed a muzzle flash spotted by the Predator’s thermal camera. The shooter was using a “murder hole,” a hole in the wall inside a building where he could safely fire from without being detected.

Uncertain of what or who was inside the structure and wanting to prevent unnecessary damage, Slife instructed his Marines to fire upon the building with only their rifles. Shortly after, two men ran out of the building with one carrying a sniper rifle. They sprinted through a field and stopped by what remained of a lone wall. Slife requested permission from his company commander to fire upon them and got an affirmative.

Bang. A Predator’s hellfire missile eliminated the threat.

“That was my most memorable [call for fire],” Slife said. “I wanted to find [the sniper], but I doubted we would. And [I] happened to see the muzzle flash and I was like, ‘No way!’”

As one of the few JTAC’s in the battalion, Slife’s eager to share his knowledge with others..

“He’s a good-to-go guy,” said Marine Corps Cpl. Corey J. Drew-Bell, a radio operator with Headquarters and Service Battalion., BLT 3/5, 31st MEU, and a native of Aurora, Colorado. “He knows how to pass good knowledge and make things entertaining and interesting.”

Back at Camp Pendleton, Slife and other Marine joint terminal attack controllers ran a prep course at the fire support coordination center. .

“Honestly, I love teaching,” Slife said. “It’s one of the things I enjoy the most. I like passing on knowledge to other Marines, guys who maybe don’t know it, or they do know it, but need a refresher course. I tell the grunts I’ll teach them whatever they want to know about my job.”

Written July 31, 2014 By:
Marine Corps Cpl. Henry Antenor
31st Marine Expeditionary Unit

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Air Force Capt. Ryan McGuire earns a gold medal in the 1,500-meter run at the 2012 Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. McGuire won five medals at the 2012 Games to add to the three he won in the inaugural Warrior Games in 2010. Courtesy photo JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – In 2009, a young Air Force lieutenant in pilot training thought his dreams of flying in the Air Force were crushed after a recreational boating accident resulted in the loss of his right leg.

PHOTO: Air Force Capt. Ryan McGuire earns a gold medal in the 1,500-meter run at the 2012 Warrior Games at the U.S. Air Force Academy, Colo. McGuire won five medals at the 2012 Games to add to the three he won in the inaugural Warrior Games in 2010. Courtesy photo 
 
Despite the accident, Capt. Ryan McGuire, now a 4th Airlift Squadron pilot, became the first airman to complete Air Force pilot training after losing a leg. He since has become a motivational speaker to airmen.

The boating accident happened when McGuire was in pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas. The boat McGuire was on was towing a float with a rope. The rope wrapped around McGuire's leg, fracturing his pelvis, dislocating his hip and cutting off the blood circulation to his leg.

Six weeks later, McGuire's leg was amputated.

"The days leading up to the amputation were overwhelming and depressing," McGuire said. "The amputation was miserable. I was at the lowest of low."

McGuire said his depression was compounded by the fact that he probably would not be allowed to fulfill his dream of completing pilot training in the Air Force. But when he began his rehabilitation program, he added, he began to realize his situation might not have been as dire as he thought it was.

After his surgery, McGuire was waiting for a physical therapy appointment when a soldier asked him when he had lost his leg.

"Last week," McGuire responded.

McGuire said he was surprised when the soldier told him he had lost a leg the previous year. "Seeing him in uniform walking perfectly normal made me realize that being an amputee doesn't define me," the captain said.

In addition to his rehabilitation, McGuire said, the support system of his family, friends and Air Force wingmen was a key part of his recovery.

"From my wing commander to my flight commander, they supported my family and me throughout my recovery," McGuire said.

In addition to the challenge of recovering from his injury, McGuire faced the possibility of being medically discharged from the Air Force. Having wanted to fly since the age of 5 and entering the Air Force Academy with expectations of becoming a pilot, he said, the thought of losing the opportunity to fly was devastating.

To stay in the Air Force and fly, McGuire had to go before a formal medical evaluation review board to prove he was able to continue pilot training. To get a waiver to fly, he had to show the board he could still do everything that would be required of him as an Air Force pilot.

Faced with what looked to him like impossible odds, McGuire said, the help of his rehabilitation and the support of his Air Force family enabled him to present his case effectively and receive a waiver to continue flying.

"My squadron supported my decision to stay in the Air Force and assisted me in the process of getting a waiver to fly again. … They were going to support me no matter what," he said.

In May 2011, McGuire completed his pilot training and by October of that same year, he finished C-17 Globemaster III qualification training. He since has deployed and flown medical evacuation missions, but he also has become known for his inspiring story of resilience.

"Most people don't even know that Ryan lost a leg during pilot training," said Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Anderson, the 4th Airlift Squadron commander. "The fact that he doesn't talk about it is why his story of incredible resiliency and mental toughness is awesome. He just wants to be part of the team like everyone else."

McGuire has spoken to airmen and civilians at numerous events, including McChord's Wingman Day in 2012, the Air Force Academy's National Character Leadership Symposium in 2013, and more recently, at the 305th Air Mobility Wing's Mission Focus Day at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey.

"He has represented Team McChord by speaking at these large venues across the country about resiliency, sacrifice and selfless service, each time leaving the stage with a standing ovation," Anderson said. "Ryan's positive attitude, incredible work ethic and desire to be part of something bigger than himself make him an incredible officer and inspiration to others."

McGuire said he is passionate about speaking at various events to give back to the Air Force and help others overcome diversities.

"The Air Force has given me the opportunity to excel and overcome this injury," McGuire said. "I hope to show others that they, too, can overcome an injury or a setback like I did. I want them to know that the Air Force takes care of its people and will provide them with the tools and resources to overcome."

Since arriving here, McGuire said, he has received the same treatment as everyone else and that he has never been singled out or mistreated for being an amputee.

"If you are facing adversity, you have a support system in the Air Force," McGuire said. "It will never be too much for the Air Force to help you get to the other side. No other job in the world gives the support that the Air Force does."

McGuire encourages other airmen facing similar challenges not to lose hope.

"Never take no for an answer, keep pushing forward and the Air Force will have your back," he said. "For every challenge, there always has to be a first to overcome it. In my case, I was that first. You can be a first, too."

Written July 30, 2014 By:
Air Force Airman 1st Class Jacob Jimenez
62nd Airlift Wing

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Air Force Airman 1st Class Benny Le prepares to perform a deadlift exercise, July 15, 2014, at a fitness club in Wichita, Kan. Le is training for a powerlifting competition in August. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua MCCONNELL AIR FORCE BASE, Kan. – Twelve hours of patrolling on the graveyard shift drained his energy, but not his drive. The job was done, but the work wasn't.

PHOTO: Air Force Airman 1st Class Benny Le prepares to perform a deadlift exercise, July 15, 2014, at a fitness club in Wichita, Kan. Le is training for a powerlifting competition in August. U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua 
 
The airman steps through the fitness club doors with only one goal in mind: to achieve powerlifting superiority. He sees an empty bench press. He feels the grip of the iron bar covered with chalk powder, and the only sound he hears is the music through his headphones. In that moment, his new environment separates him from the rest of the world.

Air Force Airman 1st Class Benny Le, 22nd Security Forces Squadron patrolman, powerlifts to stay fit, but the sport is more than just lifting heavy weights, he said.

"Powerlifting is mostly mental," Le explained. "I try to clear everything in my mind, and I imagine myself as the Hulk, being able to lift whatever weight is in front of me."

Le was first introduced to the sport that would improve his fitness, both physically and spiritually, by his first supervisor at F.E. Warren Air Force Base, Wyoming.

"The first time I powerlifted, I loved it," Le said. "There were a lot of friendly people, and even those who didn't know me showed support. That really motivated and hyped me up for the meet."

Bench pressing, deadlifting, and squatting soon became routine for Le. Although his first powerlifting competition was easy for him to do, he said, fitness was not always his thing.

"As a chubby, dorky kid in middle school, I stuck with video games from an early age," he said. "After seeing [an exercise machine] commercial one night, I decided to get in shape. I lost 35 pounds in two months."

Le said his new physique motivated him to keep working out, and eventually to start powerlifting. "I want to inspire others to be fit just like me," he added. "I just want to help them succeed."

Le's drive to succeed and to help others is something anyone who knows him can see.

"Benny is a super nice guy, and he's really, really humble," said Daniel Tennison, a workout partner of Le. "He's not arrogant, [and] he doesn't have a big head. He just keeps his nose to the grindstone and he trains hard. He's a humble competitor."

Le said he wants to use himself as an example to help others get out of their stagnant fitness routines and get more involved in managing their health.

"A lot of people don't go out there and strive for their goals," said Le, who at 5 feet 2 inches tall wanted to prove that people can achieve their goals if they make an effort.

"You need to have a strong mentality to get started," he said.

Le may spend up to three hours in the gym just to complete three different sets of exercises. His workout partner sees his mental preparation and believes Le can achieve anything.

"He's got potential to be one of the best in the nation at his weight class, and I know he's got the mentality and work ethic to do it," Tennison said. "I see him work, I feel how much he loves it, and his head is in the right place. You guys are going to see some really big things out of Benny."

Written July 29, 2014 By:
Air Force Airman 1st Class David Bernal Del Agua
22nd Air Refueling Wing

 
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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00

Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins refuels a B-1B Lancer over Afghanistan, July 17, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Colin CatesSOUTHWEST ASIA – Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins, a 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron boom operator, has reached 8,000 refueling hours in his career, a rare feat for a boom operator.

PHOTO: Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Floyd W. Atkins refuels a B-1B Lancer over Afghanistan, July 17, 2014. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Colin Cates 

"The milestone signifies the love for what I do," Atkins said. "Reaching the 8,000 hours means I have been blessed to maintain good health -- good enough to remain on flying status for 28-plus years."

Atkins said he hopes to reach the 8,765 hour mark, which would equal one full year of flying time. “I think I will have to get a patch that says 1-50 since I will probably be 50 when I reach that mark," he added.

But just like every other boom operator, he said, he had to start somewhere.

"The feeling as a young boom operator was one of amazement," Atkins said. "I couldn't believe the Air Force was letting me do this for a living. One of my first missions was refueling the Thunderbird just after arriving at my first duty station. It's got to be the greatest job ever."

Now, he said, he has the privilege of seeing the new faces in the boom operator career field and relives some of the same feelings he had as a young boom.

"Being a boom is special -- no two days are the same, and again it's a rush of excitement at times,” he said. “Now it's fun to watch a brand-new boom refuel and get excited, and see that same look on their face that I had over 20 years ago.”

Early in his career, Atkins said, he never gave much thought to how many hours he had. “To me, I was just doing what I enjoyed and never worried about the hours," he explained. "Only recently has it become interesting as people are amazed by the number of hours I have logged."

Along with racking thousands of hours in the sky, Atkins has earned a degree and spends time with his wife and two children.

"In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family," he said. "We are huge Tennessee Volunteers fans, and I love watching football. We all love to travel, as well. So when not traveling with work, I am often traveling with the family."

When he’s not deployed, the Knoxville, Tennessee, native works close to home with the 151st Air Refueling Squadron on McGhee Tyson Air National Guard Base, Tennessee.

"As far back as I can remember, I've wanted to fly and travel," Atkins said. "This career has been perfect for that, but, it is the friends, experiences, and the variety that keeps me doing this year after year."

Atkins said he has been able to see the world and enjoy experiences that transcend the hours he has logged.

"As I reflect back, the Air Force and Air National Guard have given me everything they promised and more," Atkins said. "I've covered a lot of ground in those 8,000 hours."

Written July 28, 2014 By:
Air Force Senior Airman Colin Cates
379th Air Expeditionary Wing

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Last modified on Monday, 29 November 1999 16:00
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