Growing up, Master Sgt. Kristofer Reyes and his cousins would use
rubber and rocks from a nearby recycling center and create games. He
was born to a poor family in Luzon, Phillipines. His parents
divorced when he was 2 years old and his mom moved to the U.S. That
left him and his siblings stuck in poverty, with only access to one
meal a day coming from their village's Christian school. Reyes got
his first toothbrush when he was 9; yet he hasn't required much
Master Sgt. Kristofer Reyes, a 99th Airlift Squadron flight engineer, inspects a C-37A at Joint Base Andrews, Md., June 7, 2016. Reyes is responsible for monitoring and maintaining the mechanical and electrical systems on the C-37A, which is a highly modified Gulfstream G5, and is used, along with the VC-25, C-20B, C-37B, C-32A and C-40B for executive airlift of the U.S. president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant commanders, and other senior military and elected leaders. (U.S. Air Force photo
by Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace)
With a lively smile, Reyes, a 99th Airlift Squadron
flight engineer, explained, “Being on an island had its
advantages. I always had access to salt water and would
gargle that to keep my teeth clean. Besides, clean teeth and
fresh breath were the least of my worries; the real danger
came from going to school.”
Similar to some parts of
the Philippines today, there was fighting between Muslims
and Christians in southern Philippines in the early 1980s.
To complicate matters, Reyes' Christian village school was
erected on land the local Muslims considered holy. Armed men
would frequently attack Reyes' school with small-arms fire
and other tactics.
“It was common to hear gunshots
ring in the middle of a lesson or when we were at recess,”
Reyes said. “I don't think they actually wanted to hurt or
kill us, rather they just wanted the school relocated off
Still, growing up hungry and without
essentials, much less toys, in an environment where violence
was ever present wasn't the life Reyes' mother wanted for
him. In 1992, his mom petitioned for Reyes to move in with
her in San Francisco.
Leaving the Philippines would
be bittersweet for Reyes. Tagalog was the only language he'd
ever spoken, though he learned some English in school.
Despite the violence and poverty, there was an uncanny
beauty to the Pacific Islands, one that Reyes would never
Coming to America was no easy affair for
Reyes or his family. While it paled in comparison to the
poverty or violence in his homeland, the mean streets of
urban San Francisco didn't prove overly easy to walk either.
The Bay Area was home to many dangerous gangs, and a
prevalent crime and drug culture. After surviving the
religious conflicts in his homeland, Reyes wasn't about to
let any seedy elements of California get the best of him.
“I just set my mind to doing my best to stay away from
trouble and focus on school and work,” he said. “I was the
first in my family to graduate high school, and later the
first in my family to graduate college.”
overcoming a language barrier that made English, science and
social studies challenging, Reyes quickly excelled at the
universal language of mathematics. In college, he would go
on to major in engineering. However, engineering proved
difficult for him and since he wasn't doing well
academically, he said he dropped out of the program and
enlisted in the Air Force.
Reyes didn't have a
guaranteed career path coming into the Air Force. He
enlisted as open mechanical, which meant he was guaranteed a
mechanical job but the exact job would be selected in basic
military training at the needs of the Air Force.
remember thinking, ‘Please don't make me an engineer or
anything in the engineering career field,'” said Reyes, who,
after a few weeks in BMT, learned he was going to become an
F-16 Fighting Falcon engine mechanic.
technical training, Reyes shipped off to Luke Air Force
Base, Arizona, and pushed himself hard to learn everything
about the Pratt and Whitney F100 turbo fan engine. His
eagerness to learn and dedication to the mission quickly
caught the attention of his supervisors, and he was
fast-tracked to all available training opportunities; he
mastered maintaining that engine and even earned the
maintenance professional of the year award.
hands down the best jet mechanic I had work for me during my
time in the Air Force,” said retired Master Sgt. Alex Daicos,
Reyes' supervisor at Luke AFB. “He is truly a whole concept
Airman. Not only does he give 100 percent in his duties but
to his family as well.”
Daicos said work always felt
more like family with Reyes around.
“As any good
leader knows, you're only as strong as the shoulders who
carry you,” Daicos said. “Even with all the heat and
grueling hours we worked to keep the aging F-16 fleet in the
air, Kris always managed to have everyone laughing and just
made things better. I was sad to see him cross-train, but at
the same time I kept telling him it's a big Air Force and he
can go and do what he wants. Kris takes feedback and
mentorship, and runs with it; there's no challenge too hard
with an always positive attitude and pure determination to
Though Reyes loved maintaining
the F-16, he always felt he was meant to fly. “Seeing pilots
and enlisted aircrew walk around in their flightsuits only
solidified what I already knew,” he said. “I needed to be
part of the operational Air Force; I needed to fly.”
Reyes submitted an application to retrain into the Air Force
flight engineer career field.
“It's very ironic that
the guy who dropped out of the engineering program in
college would strive to be a flight engineer, but the FE
career field is renowned as one of the smallest and most
difficult enlisted flying tracks,” Reyes said.
“That's also ironic, but whenever I'm told something is the
most difficult or unattainable, it's what I want to do. I
regret failing at engineering school in college, but I've
used that failure to boost my determination to succeed.
Sometimes the best life lessons are learned by failing and
bouncing forward to be better,” he continued.
the irony, Reyes was accepted into the prestigious flight
engineer career field and graduated technical training as a
distinguished graduate. In fact, Reyes has earned
distinguished graduate three times in his career; during jet
engine mechanic tech school, flight engineer tech school and
Airman leadership school. He also earned the commandant's
leadership award at his NCO academy.
completion of the basic flight engineer training course and
appropriate flying training course, Reyes relocated to the
36th Airlift Squadron at Yokota Air Base, Japan, where he
entered qualification training to be a C-130 Hercules flight
Burning through upgrade and qualification
training, Reyes quickly made a name for himself as a go-to
flight engineer for systems troubleshooting. Whenever there
were electrical or mechanical problems on the C-130, his
expertise was called upon. He flew hundreds of missions to
locations all around the Pacific, and as he worked his way
up the ranks, he began instructing and evaluating other
“When I first met Kris, I was
stunned by his positive attitude,” said Senior Master Sgt.
Dustin Grove, the 618th Air Operations Center Current
Operations Directorate superintendent. “His motivation to
mentor those around him and his dedication to the unit's
mission are second to none. Kris is an example of what
others should strive to become and his selfless actions and
behaviors prove that he is a leader among leaders.”
March 2011 brought new challenges when a 9.0-magnitude
earthquake hit Japan, decimating much of the main island of
Honshu and killing more than 15,000 people.
and indeed the world, wasn't prepared to respond to the
aftermath of the Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami, but joint
efforts by the Japanese, U.S. and other nations resulted in
quick-reaction and humanitarian missions. The most notable
of such by the U.S. Air Force was Operation Tomodachi. It
involved roughly 24,000 U.S. service members and the C-130s
based at Yokota AB played a herculean effort in the
operation; they flew seemingly non-stop missions. All those
sorties took their toll on the aircraft and it was flight
engineers like Reyes and other maintainers who kept the
aircraft in the air, flying the vital humanitarian missions
to support Japan.
With Operation Tomodachi in the
rearview mirror, it wasn't long before his career field
realized the level of talent they had on their hands, and
quickly moved Reyes to the flight engineer tech school, so
he could train all newly assigned and upgrading flight
“Being an instructor is a unique and
rewarding experience,” Reyes said. “It's the only place
where you can impact the technical skills and mindset of
every C-130 FE.”
an already illustrious career despite such modest
beginnings, the Air Force isn't yet done with Reyes.
At a small joint base on the outskirts of the nation's
capital is a unique wing responsible for executive airlift
of the president, vice president, cabinet members, combatant
commanders, and other senior military and elected leaders.
Like so many times before, the needs of the Air Force came
knocking on Reyes' door and he raised his hand in earnest to
The 89th Airlift Wing flew Reyes out to
Joint Base Andrews, Maryland, in August 2014 for a four-day
hiring board. They showed him their pristine blue-and-white
aircraft and introduced him to the Special Air Mission
Foreign (SAM Fox), mission. Day and night for four days
straight, Reyes was immersed in the 89th AW culture, and all
the while, panels of SAM Fox leaders grilled him to
ascertain his level of commitment, professionalism,
attitude, knowledge and capability to perform the
full-spectrum of his duties alone, while being the face of
the Air Force to America's most senior leaders.
proving he was indeed SAM Fox material, Reyes was reassigned
to the 99th Airlift Squadron.
The 99th AS is one of
three squadrons under the 89th Operations Group. Combined
with the 1st Airlift Squadron and Presidential Airlift
Group, the crews of the units operate some of the most
advanced commercial-based aircraft in the world, including
the VC-25, known mostly for its call sign of “Air Force
One,” given whenever the president is on board.
Reyes was sent to training to learn all the mechanical and
engineering systems of the C-37A, which is a highly modified
Gulfstream G5, and is a flying office enabling diplomacy and
global influence for the U.S.
"Master Sgt. Reyes has
come to the 99th AS with a tremendous background complete
with hardships and perseverance ... but also success and
determination,” said Lt. Col. Jason Kirkland, the 99th AS
commander. “These experiences have shaped his character and
molded him into the Airman he is today. He is a better
leader, mentor and wingman because of it."
any given day or night Reyes is tasked with flying senior
leaders around the globe, he was also recently selected for
something unique. Reyes is the only flight engineer to have
been selected for the Air Force Language Enabled Airman
Program, where his Tagalog language skills are being used to
further international interoperability between U.S. and
From a poor, yet wide-eyed
boy living in a war zone, to the dedicated professional
Airman, husband and father he is today, Reyes has truly
defied the odds and continues to inspire whomever he comes
in contact with.
“We all come from somewhere, but
we're not all relegated to the life we were born into,”
Reyes said. “If we have a dream that means we have hope, and
if we have hope, we already have the fuel to fly forward.
Sometimes the only missing component for success is a
wingman, a person to stand side by side with and begin the
journey. But, ultimately, we each have the power within
ourselves to succeed, and to let our successes motivate
By U.S. Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
Air Force News Service
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