Portrait of an Airman: Staff Sgt. Jacob Kowalski
By Senior Airman Ryan Kuntze, 128th Air Refueling Wing
/ Published April 03, 2011
MILWAUKEE -- Civil engineering doesn't always involve construction.
Sometimes, civil engineers are called upon to look at the minute details of the environment and the assets of today's Air Force.
Today, Staff Sgt. Jacob Kowalski prepares for an exercise that involves radiation. A KC-135R Stratotanker has just returned from Guam, and, as an emergency management specialist, Kowalski and his team must certify that the aircraft does not carry any radiological residue. Due to the aircraft's long-range proximity to the disaster in Japan, this exercise bears a real-world component that fits well with emergency management's wartime mission.
Kowalski, who has been with the 128th Air Refueling Wing emergency management office for two years, has a background to go with his expertise. He served in the Marine Corps Reserve for six years as a hygiene equipment operator, in the Air Force Reserve for two years as an emergency management specialist, and, before joining the 128 ARW, in Qatar as a Department of Defense emergency management contractor for two years.
Outside of the military, Kowalski is the assistant store manager for Family Video in Kimberly, Wisconsin; he has held that job for two and a half years.
The 30-year-old staff sergeant truly enjoys his job with the Wisconsin Air National Guard.
"I'd like to stay for as long as they keep me," he said while indicating that he'd like to finish his military career in the 128 ARW's employ.
"This is a really interesting career field," he said. "I get to do things most people never will do."
Kowalski joined the military because of a youthful fascination with the armed forces.
"Since I was a kid, I always wanted to be in the military," he said.
Moreover, he comes from a military family. His grandfathers served in World War II - one in the Marines and the other in the Army - and his father served during the Vietnam War.
His two stepbrothers have also joined the military, and Kowalski had the opportunity to deploy with one of his stepbrothers in 2003 during a deployment to Qatar; at the time, both his stepbrother and he were in the Marine Corps.
Regarding his on-base duties, Kowalski said the emergency management office has a role in planning base exercises, and the office maintains constant vigilance toward any ongoing events, such as today's exercise.
"We teach people every month," he said. "Deployed, we give peace of mind when people have immediate questions regarding their gas masks [or other such concerns]."
During a prior deployment, Kowalski said he took the initiative to create a better working environment and emergency plan.
"In Qatar, we didn't have a great response plan," he said. "So, I took the bare-bones plan and worked on it. Other members stationed in Korea and Germany said they saw my revised plan in their emergency management folders."
Today's exercise involves the entire emergency management office. The Stratotanker is parked empty, and Kowalski and his team have already obtained their background radiological readings from an aircraft in the hangar. Armed with ADM-300 particle detectors, which survey nearby surfaces for Alpha and Beta particles, and a GR-135, which identifies the specific isotopes of radiological particles, the emergency management team is prepared to inspect the recently returned refueling aircraft.
Despite the cold wind and growing, ominous darkness of a looming thunderstorm, Kowalski and his team scan the Stratotanker from nose to tail. They pay specific attention to the wheel wells, engine intakes, and the fuel boom. The scans, while at times elevated, never returned findings that were above safe levels. Though the exercise isn't complete - the aircraft's interior remains to be scanned - the external components are safe and the exercise has gone exceedingly well.
Speaking about the exercise, Kowalski said, "This is key training for the entire shop."
The civil engineering squadron works hard to maintain the facility infrastructure on base, and, when it comes to the emergency management office, the base's assets are likewise maintained against the hazards of operating in a global, and potentially dangerous, environment.