Ordinary People Make Extraordinary Impacts
(May 8, 2010)
Senior Airman J.C. Wardean, an HC-130P Hercules loadmaster assigned to the 79th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, in a moment of levity, waits for a fuel truck to refuel an HC-130P aircraft, April 17, 2010, Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan.
| ||CAMP BASTION, Afghanistan (AFNS - 4/20/2010) -- He was 14 when the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, flashed across his television screen at his home at Mayport Naval Station, Fla.|
His dad, retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. John A. Wardean, who spent 24 years on active duty, 13 years as an officer, was stationed there at the time. As Senior Airman John C. (JC) Wardean, 79th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron loadmaster deployed here from Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., recalls his father was furious.
Like most Americans 9/11 was a day that filled them with extreme shock and anger - the Wardean's household ,including his mother Tracey and sister Kristie, was no different.
For 14 year old JC, the day was tragic, but he spent his high school years growing up in a country at war. He grew up an
|avid sports fan feverishly cheering for the Seattle Mariners baseball team and Seattle Seahawks football team. He still says, "The refs cheated us out of Super Bowl XL. We would have won if those bums would have called the game right."|
|He is a part of a generation, who has lived with war as a part of their lives. It has been a part of the background noise of everything else going on in the world. Now it's normal ... America is a war, as it has been for the last eight years.|
In 2005, while living in Belfair, Wash., JC graduated from North Mason High School, like most young men, he was unsure of what he wanted to do.
"I worked in a hardware store for about a year after high school," said the 22-year-old Wardean. "I didn't know what I wanted to do, college, join the military, travel or whatever ... all I know is I needed to get out of my home town."
Like most people with a good relationship with their parents he consulted them about his future decisions.
"My father never pushed the Navy on me, he said if I decided to go that route I should join a Submarine unit," Wardean said reflectively. "I didn't want to do that and then my dad told me to consult an uncle who was in the Air Force."
It was that day he was introduced to the idea of becoming an Air Force loadmaster. It sounded cool to JC.
"I'd get to see the world from the back of an airplane," he said. "Sounds good to me and I can probably meet girls all over the world."
What JC didn't know at the time was a loadmaster is in charge of all cargo loading and offloading, cargo restraints, aircraft weight and balance, passenger loading and offloading, passenger safety, aircraft preflight checklists and cross checking all aircraft systems.
During the flight a loadmaster assists the pilot by running checklists and checking engine and hydraulic systems to ensure passengers and cargo arrive to their destination safely. For the young Wardean, not only would he become a loadmaster, he was also going to be qualified as a rescue loadmaster.
"My family was extremely interested in my job, most of them are firefighters, so they were proud that I was going to have a job helping people" Wardean said. "It was cool - I couldn't wait to get started."
After finishing basic training in 2006, JC started down the long road to becoming an Air Force rescue loadmaster ... 15-months of training. First, there was technical school at Lackland Air Force Base, Texas. Next, he attended a parachute water survival course at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Fla., then there was the survival evasion resistance and escape course at Fairchild AFB, Wash.
He was whisked off to Altus AFB, Okla., for the basic loadmaster course, before traveling to Little Rock AFB, Ark., for his initial- and mission-loadmaster qualification. Finally he landed at Kirtland Air Force Base, N.M., to become rescue-mission qualified, before going to his first and only destination in the Air Force so far, Davis-Monthan.
"It felt like I had been in the Air Force forever, all that training," Airman Wardean said smiling." But I did it. I was a loadmaster and in a rescue unit. How cool is that."
Airman Wardean was now the third-generation of Wardeans to serve his country by way of military service. His grandfather John Francis Wardean, retired as a W-4 from the Navy after more than 20 years.
JC joined a military, in a country at war, attached to a unit that lives by the motto "That Others May Live," so it did not take long for young Airman Wardean to start seeing the world. In 2008 he deployed to Djibouti, where he received an Air Medal for his aircrew's 10 saves.
|Senior Airman J.C. Wardean, an HC-130P Hercules loadmaster and First Lieutenant John Graham, HC-130P pilot, both assigned to the 79th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron, enjoy a video game and talk, April 18, 2010, at Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.|
|"On one of my trips on my first deployment, I actually felt kind of patriotic for the first time," Airman Wardean said, now with a serious look on his face. "We picked up some guys and they were shaking my hand and saying thank you. It was the first time it struck me ... we help people and we get them to a safe place. Cool!"|
Helping to save lives in Djibouti inspired him. He thought back to his father's outrage on Sept. 11, 2001, he thought back to the war America was in and he wanted to be a part of it.
Unfortunately for the young Airman, his HC-130 "Combat King" unit was not active in Operation Iraqi or Enduring Freedom and had not been since he was a high school senior in 2005.
"I had done this training and gotten the chance to serve in the horn of Africa, now I and my entire unit wanted to get a chance to use our skills in Afghanistan or Iraq," Airman Wardean said.
He finally got his chance when the 79th ERQS deployed here in March. The squadron, which stood up March 29 and went on alert status April 8, consists of 86 Airmen. The aircrews, maintainers and pararescuemen making up the squadron brought a unique capability back to Afghanistan, by providing a dedicated fixed-wing multirole platform to be used for personnel recovery, medical evacuation, casualty evacuation and aero-medical evacuation.
He got his first mission delivering medical supplies to a hospital in Her'at. "I want to help people - that's what makes my job fun," Airman Wardean said. "We have a cool job! So now when I meet girls I can say 'hey I'm JC and yeah I help save lives in Afghanistan,'" he added laughing.
JC said he has a deep respect for the Marines he sees every day here. He lives in a place surrounded by them. They are all a part of the increase in troops to support of Operation Moshtarek, a NATO-Afghan joint offensive involving 15,000 Afghan, Canadian, American and British ground forces.
"They're just regular guys like me serving their country and I feel like they have my back out here," Airman Wardean said. "If we are called to help them or any Coalition Forces and Afghan citizens we will have their back too."
JC doesn't know if he will make the Air Force a career. After all he's 22 and he has goals - finishing school, becoming a sports agent, working for the Seahawks or Mariners and one day having a family.
For now he is an American Airman and like most he came from humble beginnings. Still JC is serving his country during a time of war.
"I am just a regular guy, who likes hanging out with his crew, but what I get to do every day for the Air Force is extraordinary," Airman Wardean said. "For now life is Cool!"
|Article by USAF TSgt. Oshawn Jefferson, U.S. AFCENT Combat Camera Team|
USAF photos by Staff Sgt. Manuel J. Martinez
Reprinted from Air Force News Service
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