LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. -- The challenges in life are often what make us who we are, alter our path in life and change our future. For Tech Sgt. David Gerig, 56th Civil Engineer Squadron Explosive Ordnance Disposal team chief, his experiences led him to helping the poor and comforting the dying.
Gerig's family came from Johannesburg, in the province of Gauteng, South Africa. He was born in the U.S. with the majority of his family still living in South Africa.
The Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S., combined with the need to receive financial help for college, led him to join the military.
At first, Gerig was interested in joining the Marines, but the Air Force offered him the job he was interested in -- explosives. After high school graduation in 2002, Gerig left for basic training and attended technical training at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, for 10 months. From there his first base was Kadena Air Base, Japan, where he experienced his first culture shock at age 19.
"My first base was Kadena, right off the bat," Gerig said. "It gave me a chance to go overseas and experience that cultural shock. The chance to see other cultures at a younger age made it a great island to be stationed at."
During his time at Kadena, the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake struck and sent a massive tsunami along the coastlines, killing more than 230,000 people in 14 countries. Gerig took leave and traveled to Thailand a few weeks before his scheduled deployment to help rebuild an orphanage.
"Kadena really opened me up to the world," said Gerig. "When the tsunami hit Thailand, I had to go there and help. That was when I was like 'Whoa, this is just amazing." Helping out was just phenomenal."
After his work in Thailand, Gerig went on his first deployment to Afghanistan. He would go on to three more deployments after that. One deployment was to Iraq, another to Afghanistan, and one to Germany to work with service members returning from war suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder at the Deployment Transition Center.
"War and death can affect a person in many ways, and I was there to help others with my experiences of going through combat."
Gerig was then stationed at Scott AFB, Illinois, from 2005 until March of this year when he arrived at Luke.
Training for missions and being gone for days at a time was not easy for this single father.
"I am a full time single dad," he said. "I needed a support system that I could depend on. Luke Air Force Base gave me the opportunity to raise my daughter and still do my job."
Gerig has traveled the world, checking off countries he has wanted to visit. Next on his list is the Kalighat Home for the Dying. The home was established in 1952 in Kalighat, Kolkata, India, by Mother Theresa. It is a free hospice for the poor and is a place to give dignity to those who are dying.
"You should do things that change your perspective on life," Gerig said. "For example, at the home for the destitute and dying, you see people who were literally dying on the streets before they were taken there. The workers ask them, 'All right, can we give you food? Can we bath you?'
"That will change your perspective," he said.