BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan -- Fifteen Airmen deployed to Air Forces Central Command and their loved ones back home were on the receiving end of holiday phone calls from Chief Master Sgt. of the Air Force James A. Cody, the Air Force's highest enlisted leader, Dec. 24.
Airman 1st Class Frank Perez-Castillo, from the 455th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron commander support staff, deployed to Bagram from Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, and Senior Airman Joseph Jurasovich, a 62nd Expeditionary Reconnaissance Squadron MQ-9 launch and recovery sensor operator, deployed to Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan from Ellsworth Air Force Base, South Dakota, were two of the Airmen who spent a few moments on the phone with Cody.
"I was so impressed when I picked up the phone and the caller introduced himself as the chief master sergeant of the Air Force," Perez-Castillo said. "When I learned that I may have the opportunity to speak with one of our top leaders I was honored. Actually speaking to chief Cody was a very special and emotional moment for me, and an absolute privilege."
Jurasovich echoed Perez-Castillo's sentiments.
"I was notified a few weeks prior that chief Cody was going to call," Jurasovich said. "My squadron commander, chief and superintendent were all waiting by the phone with me. I think they were just as excited to have the chief master sergeant of the Air Force call as I was, and we were all glad the call was able to come through."
Though Cody himself has been in the Air Force for decades, he was able to empathize with Perez-Castillo and Jurasovich, both in the midst of their first deployments. The chief connected with their individual struggles as well as their joys.
"Chief Cody talked about how hard it could be coming straight from Puerto Rico and deploying with only 15 months of service under my belt," Perez-Castillo said. "He understands what a sacrifice being away from family during the holidays can be, especially for the first time. He wanted to make sure I had time to talk to my family, and he thanked me for our sacrifices, both mine and theirs."
Jurasovich found a fellow outdoorsman in the chief master sergeant of the Air Force.
"The chief and I talked about being away from family during the holidays and he expressed appreciation for all I do," the senior airman said. "He also complimented me on the work I've been doing here. He then asked what kind of hunting I enjoy."
Though being away from loved ones during the holiday season can be difficult, Perez-Castillo is indeed a critical piece of the 455th Air Expeditionary Wing puzzle. Still in the fledgling stages of his career, the airman 1st class holds a myriad of positions within his squadron including unit travel representative, deployment manager, information assurance officer and equipment custodian.
"My job here is absolutely rewarding," Perez-Castillo said. "I am blessed to have the opportunity to work with the leaders and mentors I have found in the defenders staff. In the beginning, my time at Bagram was difficult; however, now I feel like I am not away from home. I'm just spending time with my second family at my second home."
Like Perez-Castillo, Jurasovich is a shining example of what it means to be a modern-day expeditionary Airman. In addition to being a squadron training representative, the senior airman assisted in the recovery of three emergency aircraft, and the medical evacuation of a wounded special operations warfighter, to name a few of his accomplishments.
"This job is very rewarding," Jurasovich said. "Without the launch and recovery squadron, the squadrons back home would not be able to provide the intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance needed to keep our troops safe. I really enjoy Kandahar. This is my first deployment and the people out here make working seven days a week enjoyable. Also, knowing my leadership thinks so highly of my work means a lot."
Though Perez-Castillo and Jurasovich will carry varied stories of deployed service into the New Year, both Airmen are wrapping up 2014 with well-wishes from the top tier of Air Force leadership and a memory they won't soon forget.
"This phone call is something I will always remember," Perez-Castillo said. "I will never forget my first Christmas away from home, when the chief master sergeant of the Air Force personally called me."
Likewise, Jurasovich's conversation with the chief made this holiday season one to remember.
"The phone call definitely made my holidays better," he said. "I looked forward to the call for days, as did my parents. My parents are very proud of my accomplishments out here and for them to hear it from chief Cody made their Christmas amazing which in turn, made my Christmas even better."