Thunderbolt 2/15/2024

Page 1

Vol. 52, No. 7

Thursday, February 15 2024


News/Features: page 2 Bamboo Eagle 24-1

News/Features: page 3 Gnarly Explodeo

Week in photos: page 4 Images from the week

Photo by Senior Airman Jessica Do

Community: page 11 Events, Chapel, more...

A KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 6th Air Refueling Wing at MacDill Air Force Base performs aerial refueling with a B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 2nd Bomb Wing, Barksdale AFB, Louisiana, over the southern United States, Jan. 30. The mission of the 11th Bomber Squadron is to provide frontline units with the highest quality B-52 aviators capable of maintaining the highest standards of conduct and performance required to assume the nation’s special trust and responsibility for the world’s most powerful weapons.


CMSAF prioritizes quality of life at House hearing

Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

WASHINGTON (AFNS)—The highestranking enlisted leaders across the Department of Defense told Congress Jan. 31 that ensuring sufficient pay, health care, housing, education and other “quality of life” factors for active-duty personnel is essential to preserving readiness, maintaining the Total Force, and attracting the talent necessary to protect the nation’s security. Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass and Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force John F. Bentivegna told the Quality-of-Life Panel of the House Armed Services Committee that for all the attention on hardware, doctrine, and command structure, none of those can be maximized unless service members and their families are properly cared for and paid. “The availability of childcare, health care, suitable housing and spouse employment are not solely quality of life issues,” Bentivegna told the House Armed Services Committee. “For Guardians with a 24/7 employed in place operations, these are not just benefits, these are readiness issues. In order to develop the combat ready, space-minded warfighters, our service is not seeking to buy end strength. Our aim is to reward talent and propensity to serve.” Bass made a similar point at the hearing that also included comments from the senior enlist-

Photo by Eric Dietrich

Department of the Air Force senior leaders, Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass and Chief Master Sgt. of the Space Force John F. Bentivegna, testifiy before the House Armed Services Committee Quality of Life Panel on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 31. ed leaders from the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. “One of our lines of efforts is specifically focused on people,” Bass emphasized. “We know that the strategic environment has changed. As such there is a race for talent across our nation,

COMMANDER’S ACTION LINE The Action Line provides two-way communication between the 6th Air Refueling Wing commander and the MacDill community. Personnel may submit questions, concerns or comments via email to or Facebook @6thARWCommandTeam

MacDill Thunderbolt Publisher: Joe Deluca Editor: Nick Stubbs The MacDill Thunderbolt is published by the Times Publishing Company, a private firm in no way connected with the U.S. Air Force. This commercial enterprise newspaper is an authorized publication for distribution to members of the U.S. military services on MacDill. Contents of the MacDill Thunderbolt are not necessarily the official views of, or endorsed by the U.S. government, the Department of Defense,



the Department of the Air Force or the 6th Air Refueling Wing. The appearance of advertising in this publication, including inserts or supplements, does not constitute endorsement by the Department of Defense, the Department of the Air Force, 6th Air Refueling Wing or the Publishing Company of the products or service advertised. For retail advertising, call (813) 226-3318. Everything advertised in this publication shall be made available for purchase, use, or patronage without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, marital status, physical handicap, political affiliation or any other non-merit factor of the purchaser, user, or patron.


and we must recruit and retain the best that America has to offer. We can’t have service members distracted by whether or not they’re able to live in safe and affordable housing, whether or See CMSAF, Page 8

MacDill on the web Website: Facebook: MacDillAirForceBase Instagram: macdill_afb Twitter: @macdill_afb News items for the MacDill Thunderbolt can be submitted to the 6th Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs office, 8208 Hangar Loop Dr., suite 14, MacDill , FL 33621. Call the Thunderbolt at 828-2215. : Deadline for article submissions is noon, Wednesdays to appear in the next week’s publication. Articles received after deadline may be considered for future use. All submissions are considered for publication based on news value and timeliness. Every article and photograph is edited for accuracy, clarity, brevity, conformance with the “Associated Press Stylebook and Libel Manual” and Air Force Instruction 35-101.


Joint Base MDL conquers Bamboo Eagle 24-1

by Staff Sgt. Austin Knox 87th Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE MCGUIRE-DIX-LAKEHURST, N.J.—Airmen from the 305th Air Mobility Wing’s 2nd Air Refueling Squadron, and the 108th Wing, New Jersey Air National Guard, returned to their home station at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, Feb. 3, after completing the Bamboo Eagle 24-1 exercise at Travis Air Force Base, California. Bamboo Eagle is an eight-day operational exercise that implements multi-domain combat readiness training following the tactical buildup of exercise Red Flag 24-1. Training in the Eastern Pacific Ocean and airspace allowed for warfighters to train in a combat-representative environment and incorporated scenarios in the maritime domain. Participants from more than twenty military units implemented all-domain combat power generation from multiple basing locations throughout the Western part of the U.S., while conducting distributed command and control, agile logistics, and tactical air-to-air refueling. “For Bamboo Eagle we provided two KC-46’s, utilizing augmented crews, for the air-to-air refueling mission” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Joshua See BAMBOO, Page 10

Photo by Staff Sgt. Austin Knox

A KC-46A Pegasus from the 2nd Air Refueling Squadron assigned to the 305th Air Mobility Wing, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, N.J., sits on the flightline during the Bamboo Eagle 24-1 exercise at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 29. Bamboo Eagle 24-1 is an operational implementation of multi-domain combat readiness training.

19th AW kicks off Gnarly Explodeo by Staff Sgt. Valerie Halbert 19th Airlift Wing Public Affairs LITTLE ROCK AIR FORCE BASE, Ark.— The 19th Airlift Wing kicked off the Gnarly Explodeo readiness exercise at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Jan. 31, 2024. The goal of this Air Mobility Command-directed exercise is to ensure the base’s readiness for immediate deployment, emphasizing the speed and precision with which 19th AW forces can be projected to where they are needed most. During this exercise, the 19th AW executed the Rocket Launch Playbook, a supplement to the base’s Installation Deployment Plan that

provides a means for the wing to rapidly deploy eight of its C-130J Super Hercules aircraft in an extremely accelerated timeline to enable the Joint Force scheme of maneuver. “Explodeo showcases our Black Knights’ incredible agility and readiness capabilities to project TacAir Anywhere,” said Col. Denny Davies, the 19th AW and installation commander. “Through exercises like this, we continue to sharpen our expeditionary mindset and reinforce our role as a vital component of the Joint Force.” Explodeo tested critical pre-deployment processes across the installation and stressed the 19th Logistics Readiness Squadron’s processing See GNARLY, Page 8

Photo by Airman 1st Class Saisha Cornett

An Airman assigned to the 19th Airlift Wing marshals a C-130J Super Hercules during the Gnarly Explodeo readiness exercise at Little Rock Air Force Base, Arkansas, Jan. 31.


WEEK IN PHOTOS Crew chiefs assigned to the 442nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron perform a post flight inspection on an A-10C Thunderbolt II assigned to the 303rd Fighter Squadron, Whiteman Air Force Base, Missouri, at MacDill AFB Feb. 6. The Thunderbolt II can employ a variety of conventional munitions including general purpose bombs, cluster bomb units, laser guided bombs and joint direct attack munitions. The A-10 utilizes the GAU-8/A 30mm cannon, capable of firing 3,900 rounds per minute to defeat a wide variety of targets including tanks.

Photo by Senior Airman Zachary Foster

Photo by Senior Airman Jessica Do

Photo by Senior Airman Joshua Hastings

U.S. Air Force Maj. Brady Schutte, 6th Operations Group executive officer, performs a pre-flight checklist, Jan. 30 on MacDill Air Force Base. The 6th OG is responsible for planning and executing global aerial refueling and specialized missions for US and allied combat and support aircraft.

U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Daniel Gallagher, 89th Airlift Squadron loadmaster, prepares a C-17 Globemaster III assigned to the 89th AS, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, for takeoff at MacDill AFB Feb. 2. The 89th AS supported an evacuation exercise with the 45th and 914th Aeromedical Evacuation Squadrons from MacDill and Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station, New York.




NEWS/FEATURES WAPS testing going digital in February 2024 Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs

ARLINGTON, Va. (AFNS)—Beginning with the CY24 E6 promotion cycle in February, the Weighted Airman Promotion System test will be administered electronically, supporting a long-awaited modernization need in the Air Force’s personnel development efforts. The eWAPS platform is a collaborative effort between the Air Force, the Personnel Data Research Institute and PearsonVUE. Airmen participating in the 2024 technical sergeant and staff sergeant promotion cycles will be the first to use this system. “This initiative, along with others such as the myFSS applications, is just one of many human resources transformation efforts,” saidLt. Gen. Caroline Miller, deputy chief of staff for Manpower, Personnel, and Services. “Transforming HR Information Technology is one of my five priorities and underpins the entire HR enterprise.” Promotion-eligible Airmen can anticipate receiving invitational emails later this month, prompting them to visit the PearsonVUE website to establish an account by creating a username and password. Test Control Officers or unit WAPS monitors will contact each eligible Airman to come into the base education and testing center to sign for their assigned official test date. During this time, they will review testing instructions and individual responsibilities, which include the requirement to have their username and password with them on test day. Airmen will also receive instructions on how to create their PearsonVUE account if they did not receive the PearsonVUE email or did not create an account due to reasons such as not updating their email in vMPF or a deployment.

Airmen are required to arrive in uniform, punctually, and with their Common Access Card. Additionally, it is now imperative for them to remember their username and password. Lack of preparation, to include not having or knowing their username and password, can result in being marked as a no-show for testing. Airmen can retrieve their username using their first and last name and their email account and will also be able to reset their password by responding to security questions they established during the account creation process. Airmen who cannot reset their password and access their PearsonVUE account will be marked as a no-show for testing. “This is a transformative step that enhances the careers of our Airmen,” said Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass. “By aligning with industry standards, e-testing ensures a secure and innovative platform for a fair and equitable opportunity in promotion and career advancement. It also streamlines the process by allowing test responses to be submitted directly to the Air Force Personnel Center, eliminating the need for traditional mailing of answer sheets. This advancement not only instills total confidence in our Airmen but also provides unhindered access, empowering them to reach goals with greater efficiency and effectiveness. This is a much-needed change…and there are more to come!” Airmen who are not co-located near a base testing center, such as Airmen assigned to a geographically separated unit, could test at one of many PearsonVUE centers, affording greater flexibility. If eligible Airmen do not receive an e-mail or they can’t find it, they can go directly to the PearsonVUE website and create an account. Accounts can only be created through the PearsonVUE website after Jan. 30, 2024.

Be sure to visit the official 6th Air Refueling Wing website at


From Iranian refugee to Navy linguist: LCDR Ahrar’s realization of the American Dream

by Senior Airman Zachary Foster 6th Air Refueling Wing, Public Affairs

Through trial and tribulation, he resisted the hand dealt to him by life and forged his own path to success and fulfillment. U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shahram Sean Ahrar’s journey started in the city of Shiraz located in Southeastern Iran. Ahrar lived with his father, mother and sister and spent his days either in the classroom or on the wrestling mat. During Ahrar’s teenage years, the peaceful standard of living he was accustomed to was launched into disarray. In 1980, Iran and Iraq engaged in a violent war, rampaging through both country’s cities and devastating the lives of thousands. The war consumed more of the two nations everyday. In response, the Iranian Army went door to door forcing young men from their families to fuel their efforts. Ahrar was faced with a life-altering decision at the age of 16. He could stay with his family and risk being drafted into the armed conflict, or he could flee and start his life over. “The Islamic Republic of Iran is a dictatorship,” Ahrar said. “There was a war going on between Iran and Iraq at the time and the Revolutionary Guard Corps was enlisting and drafting teenagers into the military force. It was something that I did not believe in and did not want to do. The decision was clear; I needed to leave.” The Iranian revolutionaries took control of the American Embassy at the beginning of the Iraq-Iran War and captured 52 hostages, holding them prisoner for 444 days. This permanently scarred diplomatic relations between the two countries. As a result of the chaos that pursued, Ahrar and his mother fled to the nearest embassy in Turkey to plead for a student visa. Luckily, his uncle lived in America and needed little convincing to take in the young refugee. “I remember the conversation that my dad had with my uncle on the phone when the decision was being made,” Ahrar said. “He told him this, ‘He’s a very low maintenance kid. He’s very disciplined. You don’t have to do much with him. He will keep his nose in the books.’” Ahrar quickly obtained all the required documentation to live with his uncle. All he needed was one signature from the attendant. Thousands of refugees flooded the American embassy in Istanbul daily and attendants were given strict orders to 6


limit applications. Ahrar’s fear and vulnerability was shared with the others attempting to escape war. If Ahrar’s reasoning to go to America did not stand out in the eyes of the attendants, he would be denied. Ahrar reached the front of the line after hours of waiting. His paperwork had been cleared, but he was met with a single question to prove his worth. “What guarantee do you give me that if I give you this visa and you go to America, you won’t stay over there?” Taking a minute to decide how to respond to the attendant, Ahrar chose his words carefully as this interaction would decide the fate of his life. “For me to sit here tell you 10 years in the future I will for sure come back to Iran after I finish my studies, I would be lying to you, and I’m not here to lie to you today,” Ahrar responded. “I’m here to apply for a student visa.” Without hesitation, the attendant stamped his paperwork. “If you had said anything except what you just told me right now, I would have denied your visa on the spot,” the attendant said. “But the honesty of a 16-year-old is what’s making me give you this visa. Have a good day and study hard.” Within a month, Ahrar was off to live with his uncle in Joplin, Missouri, bringing his dreams of becoming a U.S. citizen with him. He said goodbye to his family, knowing the moment he left, he most likely would never see his home again. “I’m a father now to an amazing 15-year-old son,” Ahrar said. “It wasn’t until I had him that I understood just how hard of a decision that must have been [for my family].” Ahrar made it to the United States and was able to continue his studies without fear. However, he was met with a problem. He did not speak English. According to Ahrar, growing up in Iran instilled a diverse mindset in its citizens. It was encouraged that residents learn multiple languages like Persian Farsi and Afghan Dari. Unfortunately for Ahrar, Western influence had fled the country with the American embassy taking their language with them. One day, Ahrar’s uncle greeted him with a green dictionary titled, “Farsi to English,” and came with a new household rule: all conversations and questions needed to be translated into English to solicit a response. Ahrar relentlessly studied English in addition to his high



U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shahram Sean Ahrar, U.S. Navy Reserve Special Operations Command Central human resources officer, converses with Afghan refugees during Operation Allies Welcome, Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Jan. 26, 2022. At the age of 39, he commissioned as a human resources officer in the U.S. Navy Reserves, leveraging his skills as a linguist to connect with refugees during Operation Allies Welcome.

Courtesy photo

(Far left) U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shahram Sean Ahrar, U.S. Navy Reserve Special Operations Command Central human resources officer, left, coaches a student at St. Olaf College, Minnesota. Ahrar fled to America at the age of 16 in response to the Iraq-Iran War. He graduated from Minnesota State University with a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature and continued to become a teacher and coach. (Left) U.S. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Shahram Sean Ahrar, U.S. Navy Reserve Special Operations Command Central human resources officer, right, poses for a photo with his family at Taylors Falls, Minnesota, July 17.

CMSAF From Page 2

not they have access to childcare and health care, or any other challenges unique to serving our nation to include pay and compensation.” Bass and Bentivegna also noted that while both services must address a list of similar quality of life issues and at times coordinate efforts and strategy, each service also faces a distinct and different subset of issues. Both highlighted the need to ensure competitive pay since both services rely on people with specialized training and skills that also are in high demand in the civilian world. One of the biggest challenges for the Space Force is providing qualityof-life support that allows Space Force to recruit and retain highly educated, highly specialized personnel that the Space Force requires. “Guardians entering the service today are more educated, digitally literate, and hungry not just for a job but for opportunities to solve hard problems and assume greater responsibilities in a professional environment that stretches into the far reaches of space,” Bentivegna said. And much the same as Air Force pilots being lured away by lucrative airline salaries, Bentivegna said the Space Force’s highly trained Guardians need a value proposition to reward talent needed to retain the experience and their expertise. “Our commitment and actions to care for them and their families protects and ensures their focus, resolve, and willingness to continue their journey in the Space Force,” he said. “This is the value proposition we offer; continuing to make their experience meaningful and fulfilling amidst lucrative options from other sectors that seek Guardians for their skills and talent.” Bass also stressed the importance of prioritizing the quality of life of Airmen linking to readiness, recruitment and retention. “We have an opportunity today to pull some levers that don’t increase the top line,” Bass said. “And so, I hope that we take an opportunity to look at pay and compensation, especially when you consider we have not done a targeted pay raised for your military service members since 2007.” Focusing on improving the quality of life for Airmen and Guardians are essential as the Department of the Air Force takes a complete look at re-optimizing for great power competition. “Every dollar invested in a service member pays dividends for the Space Force, Department of Defense and our nation,” Bentivegna said. “This investment is vital to retaining the experience required for great power competition.”

Photo by Eric Dietrich

Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne S. Bass listens to opening remarks while testifying to the House Armed Services Committee Quality of Life Panel on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., Jan. 31. Both service leaders saw the HASC panel as an opportunity to represent Airmen, Guardians and their families and provide insight into the quality of service and quality of life of service members that affects the force. “To that end, we have the opportunity now to make some real impact on the quality of life of our service members,” she said. “America’s sons and daughters are key to our national security and continuing to ensure our military is a place where people want to serve will take all of us.”

GNARLY From Page 3

of personnel and cargo at an accelerated pace. During the exercise, Airmen from the 19th AW and 913th Airlift Group were processed through a simulated Personnel Deployment Function line which ensured they received important agency briefs and were equipped with proper gear and other necessary deployment documentation. Following the PDF line, two C-130J Super Hercules from the 41st Airlift Squadron took off to conduct a roughly 30-hour single-aircraft maximum endurance mission demonstrating multi-day mission generation capabilities while only landing to refuel. Additionally, Explodeo allowed the 19th AW to hone their skills on C-130 8


Hot-Integrated Combat Turns, focusing on a minimum turnaround of aircraft and recovery launch times through simultaneous fueling and loading/ unloading of cargo, aircraft reconfiguration and other servicing with all engines running. By showcasing the ability to operate at extended ranges, the exercise highlights the wing’s readiness and flexibility in responding to contingencies and challenges across the globe. The rapid deployment not only tested our operational effectiveness but also reinforced the wing’s role in supporting strategic objectives to meet the demands of the changing threat environment.


NEWS/FEATURES JBSA hosts funeral services for CMSAF Robert D. Gaylor by Airman 1st Class Gabriel Jones 502nd Air Base Wing Public Affairs

JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-LACKLAND, Texas (AFNS)—Joint Base San Antonio and the 502nd Air Base Wing will host funeral services for Robert D. Gaylor, the fifth chief master sergeant of the Air Force, on Feb. 10 at JBSA-Lackland and the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Gaylor passed away Jan. 17, at the age of 93. As a champion of professional military education, Gaylor’s legacy extends far beyond his distinguished 31-year military career. “CMSAF Gaylor was a patriot of unparalleled honor and dignity,” said current Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force JoAnne Bass. “He devoted more than 75 years of his life, both in uniform and out, to actively serving our Airmen and their famailies.” The chapel funeral service is scheduled for 10 a.m. Feb. 10 at the Gateway Chapel, located at 1930 George Ave. at JBSA-Lackland. Installation access for guests begins at 8:30 a.m. through the Selfridge West Gate. Department of Defense ID cardholders are advised to access the base through alternate gate locations and park at the Pfingston Reception Center. The JBSA-Lackland Selfridge West Gate, located on W. Military Drive,

will be open to non-DoD ID cardholders attending the funeral service from 8:30-10:30 a.m. Non-DoD ID cardholders attending the funeral service must immediately exit the installation through the Selfridge West Gate at the conclusion of the service. All DoD ID cardholders are highly encouraged to use Valley Hi, Luke East and Growdon Commerical gates to prevent traffic delays. Following the funeral service, the interment with full military honors will take place at 1:30 p.m. in the assembly area near Section 103 at the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery, 1520 Harry Wurzbach Road, San Antonio. Attendees arriving for the interment with full military honors should arrive to the cemetery by 1:00 p.m. and will be guided to parking at the entrance of Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Seating will be limited at the burial site. Transportation will be available for all DoD ID cardholders, on a firstcome, first-served basis, from the chapel service to the interment with full military honors and back. Traffic on JBSA-Lackland, JBSA-Fort Sam Houston and the surrounding areas may be affected during the time of the funeral service and during the procession from JBSA-Lackland to the Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery. Remote viewing of the events will be available through livestream on the official JBSA Facebook page.


BAMBOO From Page 3

Crockett, 2nd Air Refueling Squadron commander. “An augmented crew consists of three pilots and two boom operators, which if needed, allows us to fly for 48 hours. Not only did this exercise provide the opportunity to assess our maximum endurance operations, but it also allowed us to implement new tactics, techniques, and procedures; made available through the unique capabilities of the KC-46A Pegasus.” The 305th AMW provided the exercise with data link integration via the use of Roll-on Beyond Line-of-Site Enhancement, or ROBE kits. A ROBE is an advanced communication suite that is self-contained, palatized and able to be loaded onto a heavy aircraft. These kits advance access to network user gateways more efficiently and effectively. During Bamboo Eagle, air battle managers assigned to the 134th Air Control Squadron, McConnell AFB, Kansas, and the 970th Airborne Air Control Squadron, Tinker AFB, Oklahoma, integrated with the 2nd ARS Pegasus crews, configured with onboard ROBE kits. “Being able to combine command and control operators from the Air Force Reserve and the Kansas Air National Guard in such a short time was a true testament to our total force integration capabilities” said Maj. Joseph Payne, 970th AACS air battle manager, joint interface control officer. “This was a great example of distributed C2 for agile combat employment.” Total Force Integration at all levels of operation was a top priority during Bamboo Eagle. “It provided a piece-of-mind to operate side-by-side with our active-duty counterparts at the 2nd ARS,” said Maj. Michael Compart, 108th Wing pilot. “The like mindedness that accompanies a common mission becomes enhanced and the force multiplying benefits are immense.” Team JB MDL racked up 137 flight hours, offloaded 1.1 million pounds of fuel to 112 receivers, and accomplished ROBE tests, providing an alternate command and control avenue for contingency air battle management. “The JB MDL Bamboo Eagle Team absolutely crushed it,” said Capt. Travis Frazier, 2nd ARS director of staff and Bamboo Eagle 24-1 detach-

Photo by Staff Sgt. Austin Knox

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nicole Stephenson, 108th Wing boom operator, looks on with members of the 2nd Air Refueling Squadron as Senior Airman Seth Ambos, 605th Aircraft Maintenance Squadron maintainer, provides training on the KC-46A Pegasus during Exercise Bamboo Eagle 24-1 at Travis Air Force Base, Calif., Jan. 27. Bamboo Eagle 24-1 is an operational implementation of multi-domain combat readiness training. ment commander. “They set the standard for operations across all Mobility Air Force assets. They executed the Air Mobility Command’s top lines of effort, to include specialized fueling operations and a historic tactical data link. Thank you all for the selfless efforts.


school curriculum with the hopes of passing his classes. The cycle of hearing, translating, understanding and formulating a response burdened his life for months. Ahrar learned the English language throughout his younger years and built a life for himself in America. He excelled academically and athletically in high school, which provided him the foundation for success in college. He continued competing in wrestling while preparing to graduate with a Bachelors of Art in English Literature at the Minnesota State University, Mankato. Despite the positive trajectory of his journey, Ahrar was met with a complication. His visa was only valid during his time as a student, and with his graduation date quickly approaching he needed to take immediate measures to remain in the country. “When I was preparing to graduate, I received two letters from the Immigration and Naturalization Service,” Ahrar said. “The first said, ‘It’s been nice having you!’ and the second said, ‘Alright, time for you to leave.’” Ahrar knew if he returned home to Iran he would be prosecuted by an un10


just system. With time running out, Ahrar’s roommate took him to the local INS office to make a case for U.S. citizenship. To Ahar’s surprise, the meeting went well. He sat with an INS agent and described his situation. He described the war in Iran, the forced enlistments and the fear his return would lead to an unfavorable punishment. “ [The INS] took my friend and I into a separate room for some questions,” Ahrar said. “They asked if he could vouch for me and if I had $75 available. Of course, we said yes, and by the end of the day I had a temporary work visa and a promise that they would look into my situation. About a week prior to my graduation, I received my green card and was allowed to stay.” With his safety secured, Ahrar looked toward the future. He loved his time learning, wrestling and building relationships in college. His experience led to a lifelong passion for teaching and coaching. For the next 30 years, the young refugee transformed into the well respected Coach Ahrar. He made a comfortable life for himself and devoted his time to





Upcoming FSS holiday hours For a full list of 6th Force Support Squadron program facilities, dining options, and recreational facility closures for the President’s Day, visit February base theater movies Your MacDill Base Library is offering free movies at the Base Theater this month. Movies are open to anyone with base access to MacDill AFB. For a complete mov-ie schedule, visit Dueling Pianos Prepare for an unforgettable night of music, laughter, and good times as Boomers presents Duel-ing Pianos on Friday, Feb. 24 from 7– 10 p.m. This live musical event is not to be missed, and the best part? It’s a free event for all to en-joy. Grab a seat early to ensure the best view of the dueling pianos in action. It’s a night you’ll want to experience up close and personal. While you enjoy the fantastic mel-odies, savor a selection of drinks and food available for purchase. For more information visit, DuelingPianos_Boomers. Spring craft market Get ready to celebrate spring at the craft market on Mar. 2! Join the Arts & Crafts Center for a day filled with craftivities for all ages, browse through a variety of grab & go items, shop from local vendors showcasing their unique creations, and indulge in delicious bites from food trucks parked on-site. For more information, visit

The Champ!

U.S. Air Force photo

U.S. Air Force Col. Adam Bingham, 6th Air Refueling Wing commander, left, and Master Sgt. Kristianna Arline, with the 6th ARW 6th senior enlisted leader of Wing personnel programs, right, pose for a photo with Senior Airman Samuel Ferguson, a bioenvironmental equipment technician assigned to the 6th Medical Group, during a Champion of the Week recognition at MacDill Air Force Base Feb. 6. Ferguson was recognized as the 6th Air Refueling Wing’s Champion of the week for his leadership and technical expertise during a recent medical resonance imaging (MRI) equipment emergency. He swiftly identified and rectified a critical backup power supply failure, preventing potential damage to the $740K system and a $90M facility.

CHAPEL SCHEDULE Normal Hours- Monday - Friday - 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. After hours chaplain, call the Command Post at 828-4362/4361.

Monday-Wednesday Mass - 12:10 p.m.

Catholic Mass - Sunday - 9:30 a.m.

(confessions by appointment)

Protestant services - Sunday - 11 a.m. Contact the Chapel at 828-3621 or email at for inquiries regarding Protestant religious education. Jewish - Monthly Lunch and Learn: For schedule & to join distro, please contact

Islamic Service - Friday 1:30 p.m. (space reserved) Other Faith Groups - Please contact the Chapel at (813) 828-3621 or via email at

For more details and information, visit the Chapel Facebook page at http://www.facebook/6amwhc/ or MacDill’s Chapel website is: MACDILL THUNDERBOLT u Thursday, February 15, 2024 u WWW.MACDILLTHUNDERBOLT.COM u 11


becoming a better coach and family man. One day, a few months prior to his 40th birthday, Ahrar sat deep in thought at his desk. He contemplated if coaching was bringing him the fulfillment he wanted in life. He frequently thought about serving the country that had given him a newfound life, but had never committed himself to a career change. He picked up the phone that day and called the U.S. Navy recruiting office. By the end of the year, he was off to Officer Training School commissioning as a human resources officer. “I can tell you that my commission into the U.S. Navy was one of the proudest moments of my life,” Ahrar said. “You’ve got a 16-year-old kid coming from nothing, with nothing. As an immigrant, it’s huge. It’s something that I’m incredibly proud of, and I hope one day my son goes to the U.S. Naval Academy to become an officer.” Ahrar’s skills as a human resources officer and familiarity with both Middle Eastern culture and language was quickly put to use. In 2021, President Joseph Biden directed the Department of Homeland Security to lead Operation Allies Welcome. The two-year-long mission served to relocate and temporarily home Afghan refugees within the U.S. in response to the Global War on Terror. After a brief break in service, Ahrar was sprung into action at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, as a cultural liaison between the U.S. Army and refugee population. Ahrar had a different perspective than most translators. He not only learned the language and culture firsthand, but he understood the fear of restarting life thousands of miles away from home. “I remember talking with a group of Afghan women,” Ahrar said. “They told me they were journalism majors studying in Kabul before coming to Fort McCoy. I told them, ‘I know things are very uncertain right now. Believe me, you are in a good place. You will need to study hard, and work to learn the language. It’s not going to be easy, but know that you’re not the only one who has ever immigrated to this country and has gone through what you’re going to go through.’” Today, Ahrar’s actions as a linguist during Operation Allies Welcome earned him a position at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, working alongside Navy Reserve Special Operations Command Central as a human resources officer and Iranian cultural specialist. Ahrar’s story conveys persistence, resilience and hope. His realization of personal achievement and helping others find their own is a testament to the ever-present American Dream. From Shiraz to Wisconsin, being a refugee and immigrant, a college graduate, a coach, a husband and father, and a service member, Ahrar is a shining light for those who have dreams despite what life has given them. 12



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