There’s a First for Everything: Airman Earns Navy Honor
Beyond the pride one carries by simply being a member in today's all-volunteer U.S. military, there is no greater honor for a service member than accomplishing a challenge in an expeditionary environment, especially when that achievement is normally accomplished by a different branch than the one you serve.
This statement holds especially true when attached in support of Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa, a forward-deployed base comprised of airmen, sailors, soldiers and Marines, all sharing in the responsibility of strengthening defense capabilities and stability in the region.
On September 28, U.S. Air Force Senior Airman Grace Enriquez, a native of Baguio City in the Philippines, became the first non-Navy service member assigned to CJTF-HOA to receive the Navy Expeditionary Warfare Badge (EXW). The award of the warfare device, first introduced Navy-wide in 2006, attests to a sailor's proficiency of combat tactics, expeditionary fundamentals and core Navy knowledge. At CJTF-HOA only 79 sailors have received this pin since it was re-introduced in April of 2011. The distinction and honor of wearing the device is now shared by an airman here.
"Being in a diverse unit and a joint environment showcases many interesting bits of tradition from the Air Force, Navy, Army and the Marine Corps," said Enriquez. "I felt this was a fascinating part of Navy culture and I really wanted to be a part of it."
The EXW badge is not an easy device to achieve. To begin this process, a service member must make a special request through their chain of command. After being approved and committing to complete the necessary training and qualifications, prospects must complete Personal Qualifications Standards of core Navy knowledge, unit-specific corps training and practical knowledge of communication radios. After passing a written exam and practical exercise with a M16A2 semi-automatic rifle and Portable Radio Communication series field radios, there are two oral boards among peers to test all EXW knowledge.
Enriquez's decision to achieve the EXW device did not go unnoticed among her co-workers.
"Here at CJTF-HOA, we are faced with a unique mission and an opportunity to work closely with all services, militaries, coalition partners and civilians," said U.S. Navy Master Chief Petty Officer Josh Hildreth, Enriquez's senior enlisted leader. "By Enriquez embracing that jointness and stepping up to the challenge of completing a Navy-centric warfare qualification, I believe that she has set a new standard here. With that, perhaps she has inspired others to follow in her path to have a better understanding of our mission as a whole and how each service is part of that mission."
Enriquez was not alone in the pursuit of the warfare device. Her shop supervisor, U.S. Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Adam Haupt, an electronics technician, studied and tested alongside Enriquez and was awarded the badge at the same time.
"I'm ecstatic for her," said Haupt. "There was no doubt, even early on, that she had the necessary study habits down. She definitely made the Air Force - and all of us - proud."
Enriquez's impact at CJTF-HOA goes beyond the EXW device. Day to day, she shares responsibility for ensuring vital communications equipment is functional and ready for any mission. When the workday is over, she doesn't simply go home for the day; she volunteers at multiple locations in the Djibouti City area.
"We are guests of Djibouti and it's important that we give back to our hosts," said Enriquez. "I find it to be a very rewarding experience. The most important part of volunteering is loving what you do for others."
Enriquez spends time weekly caring for orphaned babies at a church in Djibouti City, and she also teaches English three days a week to Djiboutian students, policemen, and members of the Japanese military.
She began teaching English at her home station at Misawa Air Base, Japan, where she is a communications specialist with the 35th Communications Squadron. She began working with the Japanese two years ago, when she decided she wanted to learn Japanese. Members of the Japan's military offered to teach her Japanese in exchange for English lessons.
By day, Enriquez ensures smooth communications, and when the workday is through, she selflessly donates her time to help others. Now, she holds to her name the first non-sailor to achieve an Expeditionary Warfare Device, setting the bar for others at CJTF-HOA to step up and go the extra mile.