The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

April 13, 2013

'A beautiful thing'

Service of Vance AFB personnel goes beyond professional duties, touches lives in Enid, area

By Jeff Mullin, Senior Writer
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — The second of the three Air Force core values, “Service before self,” refers to this fact: “An airman’s professional duties always take precedence over personal desires.”

But an airman’s service goes beyond his or her professional duties.

“When we talk about developing professional airmen, our community involvement is a big part of it,” said Col. Darren James, commander of 71st Flying Training Wing.

Three of the young airmen under James’ command embody the wide-ranging scope of the concept, “service before self.”

2nd Lt. Matthew Smokovitz, Senior Airman Alisha Jones and Senior Airman Michael Peralez all donate time to various causes, both on and off base.

Jones: Happy to do it

During her duty hours, Jones serves as an air traffic controller in the 71st Operations Support Squadron. In her spare time, she is a busy young lady.

She recently served as volunteer coordinator for Cherokee Strip Area 6 Special Olympics, recruiting volunteers and assigning them to their duties.

“That was a handful, that was a lot,” she said. “That was probably one of the bigger projects I’ve taken on. It was a good learning experience.”

She is in charge of two schools  — Monroe and Prairie View elementary schools — for her squadron’s adopt-a-school program. On base, she serves on the executive council for the Vance chapter of Air Force Sergeants Association and is president of the 71st OSS booster club.

“I feel like there’s really no one area that I volunteer in,” she said. “Whatever I can get my hands on and can help out with, I’m happy to do.”

In addition, she is a member of Vance Silver Talon Honor Guard, the primary duty of which is rendering honors at military funerals.

“It’s a lot of time, but it’s worth it,” she said. “You see the families, and they respect so much what you did, just coming out there and showing respect for their fallen loved one.”

She recently took part in one of the most memorable volunteer endeavors of her life, a mission trip to Africa. Jones joined a team of 30 people who traveled to Zimbawe for 24 days, where they worked to build a school for 300 students that also will serve as the local church. The group also worked to help fix up a local orphanage.

“I want to cry every time I think about it,” she said. “It was the most amazing thing I’ve ever done. That was by far the coolest thing I’ve ever done in my life, hands down. I can’t wait to go back.

“That was life changing for me. It put a whole new look at volunteer work for me.”

The group also held vacation Bible school for local children. They began with 100 children, but their flock grew to nearly 300.

Peralez: ‘It’s just a blast’

On duty, Peralez is a desk sergeant for the 71st Security Forces Squadron, while off duty he works with Our Daily Bread, the soup kitchen operated in downtown Enid by St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, as well as Habitat For Humanity. He helps serve at Our Daily Bread with other members of his squadron, on the second and fourth Fridays of the month, and recruits and assigns volunteers to work on Habitat For Humanity projects.

Since returning from deployment in March 2012, Peralez has taken leave five times to help with his grandfather’s church, San Antonio For Christ Church in San Antonio, which sponsors a halfway house.

“It’s for people straight out of prison trying to kick a drug habit, or overcoming alcohol,” he said.

He also volunteers to work with children at Garfield Elementary School.

Peralez, who wants to cross-train to become a military working dog handler, also volunteers to be the “suspect” subdued by a charging canine during public demonstrations.

“It’s just a blast,” he said. “The kids are so excited.”

On top of that, he and his wife, Jenny, are getting ready to welcome their first child into the world.

Smokovitz: It’s a passion

Smokovitz is a member of the 71st Student Squadron, serves as volunteer coach for an under-16 soccer team in Enid Soccer Club and goes to Taft Elementary School twice a week to work with first-graders.

“We’re doing anything from helping them learn math, to writing sentences, to playing zombie tag with them on recess,” Smokovitz said. “This next week they have a play coming up, so we have been helping them rehearse their lines for that.”

Smokovitz also works at Loaves and Fishes food pantry, but hasn’t had much time to spend there as the wing prepares for the upcoming basewide Consolidated Unit Inspection.

Smokovitz grew up playing soccer and welcomes the opportunity to pass along his love of the game.

“It’s a sport that I’m passionate about, but it’s also about developing a person and helping them grow, just like working at the school,” he said. “It’s more than just the idea of playing a sport. You’re teaching them right and wrong on a soccer field, sportsmanship, teamwork.”

Making a better place

All three pointed to a desire to help people as their prime motivation for volunteering, a message Peralez received at a young age.

“My dad told me when I was a kid, he said, ‘If you’re not helping people, you’re not making the world a better place for someone else, then what are you doing? You’re wasting your life, you’re being selfish,’” Peralez said. “I think that was one of the things that hit home. Every opportunity you get to help someone makes you feel good.”

“I like to see the impact of it all,” said Smokovitz, “especially working with first-graders. They come in there and they don’t have a clue how to count or do anything, and a couple of weeks down the road they’re getting better at it and they’re picking those things up.”

For Jones, her volunteering spirit stems in part from her faith.

“The Bible talks about loving your neighbor as yourself and spreading God’s love and doing good for others,” she said. “You can never go wrong by helping other people out and putting other people before yourself.

“Helping other people and even seeing a smile on their face can change my entire day. It can change their entire day, and you never know when they are going to pay it forward to somebody else, just because they were shown an act of kindness. It’s kind of a beautiful thing.”