RAF LAKENHEATH, United Kingdom — Zachary Kasperek grew up in Angola, New York, on the shores of Lake Erie, playing with G.I. Joes and fighting with friends over who shot who in their imaginary games of war.
He always wanted to join the military.
After the Sept. 11 terror attacks, military recruiters started calling his older brother. Zachary would answer the phone and try to convince them that at 11, he was not too young to sign up. He wanted to fight bad guys and “see the world.”
Zachary graduated high school at 17, his parents gave their consent, and he was on his way to Air Force Basic Training two months later. Now, after being in the Air Force for 8 and a half years, Kasperek is an F-35A crew chief with the 34th Fighter Squadron at Hill Air Force Base, Utah.
Recently, Kasperek, and other Airmen from the 388th and 419th Fighter Wings at Hill, deployed with 8 F-35As to Royal Air Force Lakenheath in the United Kingdom where they will train with units from the U.S. Air Force, Royal Air Force and NATO ally air forces. It’s the F-35A’s (and a few Airmen’s) first overseas deployment.
“It’s my first time out of the country. Nothing to brag about,” Kasperek said. “I’m loving every second of it. I’ve never been a part of a deployment like this and it’s great that it’s the first deployment of the F-35A.”
He’s not alone. There are a handful of Airmen on this deployment who have never left the states and are excited to be in a new country for the first time, doing something that’s never been done before.
“We’re making history with the F-35A. It’s great to be part of something bigger than myself,” said Senior Airman Alexander Evans, an F-35A avionics technician with the 34th Aircraft Maintenance Unit. As an avionics technician, Evens ensures that all the mission systems are working properly so pilots have what they need to complete their objectives.
Evans, from Wooster, Ohio, said the trip is opening his eyes to how different the world is. “This base, eventually they’re supposed to get the F-35 and I would love to come out here,” he said. “It feels like you can go anywhere in Europe. I love it here. I know being on the F-35 I’m going to go out and see so many new places.”
Senior Airman Jonique Smith grew up on the west side of Compton, California. Since being stationed at Hill, she has looked forward to trips home to visit with family and friends. She’s proud of where she’s from, but on her first trip out of the states, she’s finding some of the cultural differences refreshing.
“I love it. We went right outside of base and it’s just beautiful, farms and sheep. The people in England are so welcoming. Even though they don’t know you, they’re willing to have a conversation,” she said. “This trip is encouraging. I joined to do my job.”
Smith is a member of the plans and scheduling office and ensures that aircraft are properly scheduled for maintenance, inspections and flying. Preparing and planning for this trip has increased her job satisfaction and sense of purpose in the Air Force.
“I’m proud. This is an amazing thing that’s we’ve all made happen and to be a part of it it’s like… ‘Merica!’” Smith said.