Most think of soldiers in combat, SEALS storming beaches or airborne pilots when considering U.S. armed forces members.
The reality is that the military is packed with support staff, too, in the form of mechanics, administrative assistants, computer analysts, recruiters and more.
While many of these men and women may never fight on a battlefield, their jobs make up a vital part of America’s defenses.
EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT: PROTECTORS OF THE BASE
When a natural disaster or enemy attack strikes at a U.S. Air Force base, emergency management specialists must respond at a moment’s notice. They safeguard the base from attack and essentially keep it functioning.
As an emergency manager of Nellis Air Force Base, Alexis Canty, a 21-year-old airman 1st class, must prepare for threats that often cannot be seen or come at a moment’s notice.
“When we’re here on station, we’re not looking for attacks unless it’s a suspicious package,” Canty said. “We’re more worried about natural disasters, like tornados or hurricanes. We’ll respond with FEMA. When we’re deployed, then we worry about attacks. We pretty much prepare everyone here to lock down and do whatever needs to be done.”
Canty joined the Air Force in January 2012.
“At first, it was a test to see if I could do it,” Canty said. “I also wanted to continue to do school and have a career at the same time. The Air Force has allowed me to do both.”
As an emergency manager, Canty must learn to how to alleviate dangerous situations and know how to deal with dangerous chemicals.
Her biggest accomplishment is that she was able to participate in the first wing exercise for hydrazine.
“If something ever happened in a flight line where we had a leak, we would need to be able to mitigate it before it was released because it would be damaging. If there is a hydrazine leak, you don’t inhale it; we want to make sure that nobody in that area inhales it,” Canty said.
Canty has learned how to handle weapons and has become an instructor for army combatants.
She added the most important part of her job is being ready to go if something happens and being able to respond within minutes.
“If we’re going into response, we’ll have two teams,” she said. “First, people will start to dress up. They would have to go get their vitals done to make sure that when they come out they’ll be the same way then when they came in.”
Canty works with three types of hazmat suits made to protect people from hazardous materials, chemicals or radioactive chemicals.
“If the emergency is unknown, we have to bring all of our suits, and we need to make sure that our tanks are filled with air,” Canty said. “If it’s radiation, we are going to bring radiation detectors, or if it’s a white substance, we need to bring our hazmat ID to give us more information.”
Canty signed up for six years and is 18 months into her service. Nevada is her first station.
“Being away from family and friends was hard at first, but after the first two months of boot camp, you start to realize that it’s really not that bad,” Canty said. “You can still talk to everybody on the phone or through Skype or Google. There’s so many different sites to stay in contact.”
Canty has continued her education and has her Community College of the Air Force degree and is working on her sociology degree. She hopes to branch off from emergency management and focus on psychology and sociology.
Her goals include becoming an officer or eventually switching over to civilian life while still helping the military in a nondirect way.
“As an emergency manager, I feel like I am a big part of the Air Force,” Canty said. “It’s very important work to help prevent something that could cause a threat to the base.”
RECRUITING AND RETENTION: ADVISING FUTURE SERVICE MEMBERS
Sgt. 1st Class Che Ruiz Rios is part of the Nevada Army National Guard recruiting and retention noncommissioned office. His job is to recruit future service members, even when the incentives are not as plentiful as they used to be.
“Now that conflicts around the world are dying off, believe it or not, people don’t want to enlist as much,” Rios said. “They want to be a part of something big and help protect the country from all of the conflicts that are going on around the world.”
Four years ago, Rios said, the military could offer someone a $20,000 bonus to enlist and provide free college education. “That used to be a big selling point for people deciding whether they wanted to join or not,” he said.
Rios joined the National Guard 11 years ago when he was 23. He said he was at a crossroads in his life.
“I dropped out of college, and I was working,” he said. “I had a conversation with my dad about where I was going and where my life was heading. My stepbrother did the National Guard, and I figured if he could do it, I could do it. I served locally and received paid training to be a soldier.”
Rios said his biggest accomplishment is making his family proud.
“I’ve always wanted to be in the military,” he said. “Being a soldier is more along the lines of what I like to do. Every aspect of your life evaluated. People are at a higher caliber than most any other career field. You won’t see any out-of-shape people, for one. Attention to detail is key, and it carries over to my personal life, too.”
Rios has never been deployed overseas, only locally. For a year and a half, his unit helped train soldiers before they went overseas in a mock desert environment.
Since he became a recruiter in February 2007, he has enlisted everyone from a principal’s son to one of his own college professor’s sons.
“I’ve even enlisted couples, brothers and sisters and a husband and wife,” Rios said. “You have to gain that trust and relationship with the family and be honest. I don’t sugarcoat stuff. There will be times when the Army does ask a lot of you, to be away from your family and to put your life on the line.”
Rios was inspired by his grandfather, Joseph Ruiz, who served in World War II.
“I have his discharge papers hanging over my desk,” he said.
INSPECTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE: COMPLAINT RESOLUTION
After being enlisted for nearly 20 years in the U.S. Army, living in cities around the world and traveling to 22 countries, Master Sgt. Christopher James Burgess continues to set personal and career goals.
As superintendent of the Inspector General’s office for the United States Air Force Warfare Center, Burgess works to resolve a variety of complaints.
“We look into the matters for them, or we refer them to an agency that can help them,” Burgess said. “We help them find facts and look for wrongdoing.”
Burgess is stationed at Nellis Air Force Base and helps find information for people with problems such as pay or decoration issues.
“I’m a people person, and seeing someone walk into the door with an issue and being able to help them get it resolved from cradle to grave is one of the things I enjoy about most about this,” Burgess said.
Burgess took the position in October when he was a 1st sergeant.
“My father, grandfather and great- grandfather all served in the military,” Burgess said. “I’m just following the Burgess family legacy.”
In addition to serving in the military, Burgess is one of the top three Nellis Air Force Base volunteer coordinators. In his spare time, he coordinates a program to feed the homeless, in which 250 to 350 people are fed through hosting squadrons. Squadrons take turns to feed the homeless on the last Monday of the month. Members station themselves on Washington Avenue.
“This is the best job in the world,” Burgess said.
MANPOWER PERSONNEL AND SERVICES: MANAGING BEHIND THE SCENES
It all started in high school when Monteceo Perry took part in the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. He completed four years under Maj. Larry Spicier (Ret.) and graduated in the top 10 percent of his class.
“He was a big influence on me because he made me the personnel officer over the whole squadron while I was in high school,” Perry said.
Staff Sgt. Perry, manager of manpower personnel and services, joined the military straight out of high school when he was 18 years old.
“I even turned down a band scholarship to come to the military,” Perry said.
Perry, a 23-year-old from Alabama, is a graduate of Airman Leadership School and was airman of the quarter for the Warfare Center.
Perry is working for a two-star general. He often deals with personnel management and advisory services, performance reports and placement support. According to Perry, attention to detail is key.
“I know down the ranks I want to be 1st sergeant and attain my Community College of the Air Force degree,” Perry said.
According to Perry, the best rewards of being in the military are when people thank him for his service. He is proud to represent the Air Force in the best light possible.
“I believe that only 1 percent of Americans are in the military,” Perry said. “With that number comes a responsibility to carry yourself a certain way.”
Perry said there are challenges that come with being young and serving the country. He had to leave home right after high school and has been able to see his family only once every year.
“My family stood by me the whole time,” he said. “Of course, they’re parents, and they get nervous, but they have supported me through the whole process.”
Nellis Air Force Base is Perry’s first station. He sees a lot of what happens behind closed doors, and his job plays a central role in development initiatives.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to wear this uniform,” Perry said.
AIR FORCE REPAIR ENHANCEMENT PROGRAM: MAINTAINING MILITARY EQUIPMENT
There is a program where broken mechanical and electronic equipment goes to be fixed, saving the Air Force thousands of dollars by repairing necessary parts that are a challenge to fix.
Roberto Malonado, a staff sergeant with the Air Force Repair and Enhancement Program, enjoys such challenges.
“We have to evaluate all of the broken parts that we get and try to get them fixed,” Malonado said. “Every day there is something different.”
Malonado, 36, a native of Puerto Rico, has been in the military for 10 years.
“I wanted to join the military to serve my country and to provide a good future for my family,” Malonado said. “My family is very supportive of my service.”
Malonado has a wife and three daughters living in the United States, while the rest of his family lives in Puerto Rico.
The path to join the repair and enhancement program was not always an easy one for Malonado. One challenge he faced when joining the Air Force was the language barrier.
“I remember my training instructor yelling at me, but I didn’t know what he was saying,” Malonado said. “He would get upset and say, ‘On your face, do push-ups.’ I understood that.”
It took him two weeks to adequately understand English, he said.
Malonado’s grandfather was enlisted in the army for 20 years. Malonado grew up listening to stories about his grandfather’s adventures in Germany and Korea.
Now Malonado spends most of his time working on helicopter parts but expects to be moving in August or September to Alaska, where he was stationed before coming to Nellis Air Force Base.
“My first priority is always my family. As long as they’re good, I don’t care what I do,” Malonado said.
Malonado plans to stay in the military until he retires.
“You just have to put your heart into it and do your best,” he said.
Contact reporter Sandy Lopez at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4686.