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From construction to command post: An Airman’s journey

A photo containing Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava, 18th Wing command post senior controller, smiles for a photo at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. Command post operates as an information hub, ensuring important information reaches the correct personnel or agency. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

A photo containing Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava, 18th Wing command post senior controller, notifies the 18th Wing commander of an in-flight emergency at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. In the case of an in-flight emergency, command post controllers are responsible for making sure everyone, from the commander to emergency services, has the necessary information to respond appropriately. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

A photo containing Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jazzmine Van Winkle, background, 18th Wing command post senior controller and training manager, reviews an email from higher headquarters with Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava, 18th Wing command post senior controller, at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. Communication is critical to mission success, and command post controllers work around the clock to ensure Kadena remains a world-class strategic forward base. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

A photo containing Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava

U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava, 18th Wing command post senior controller, uses a radio to communicate with aircraft at Kadena Air Base, Japan, Aug. 25, 2021. Mass notification systems like the Giant Voice system and AtHoc alerts are managed by command post controllers, and are used to inform a large number of people quickly. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Anna Nolte)

A photo containing Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava

A three-year-old U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava poses for a family portrait with his parents and grandparents. Born to two first-generation immigrants from Mexico, Rubalcava worked full-time at his father’s construction company before joining the U.S. Air Force at 24 years old. (Courtesy photo by Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava)

KADENA AIR BASE, Japan --

Working under the hot California sun, his world felt small – reduced to a shovel and concrete. The 24-year-old construction worker fantasized of a life he’d only seen played out in movies, one filled with adventure and travel to his dream home-away-from-home – Japan. While breaking concrete at his dad’s construction company one day, it hit him: If he wanted to see his dreams closer than on a TV screen, he needed to change his life.

Five years later, U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. James Rubalcava, 18th Wing command post senior controller, reflects on his journey and how his Hispanic heritage and culture helps him along the way.

“My dad’s been taking me to work since I was five,” he said. “If I was old enough to hand him a hammer, I could go to work with him. In Mexican culture we tend to start our kids working off very, very young so they can appreciate the things they have.”

Rubalcava described the importance of attention to detail, hard work, and integrity instilled in him while working alongside his father.

“I remember he told me, ‘Even if it’s a nail, I don’t want you to ever steal.’ My father always believed in never cutting corners and doing things right, because you’ll never have to do it again and people won’t ever question your integrity. If you work hard, someone will notice.”

His strong values, which push him to excel as an Airman, were learned at an early age thanks to his father. Rubalcava credits his father for the Airman he is today, and the high standards instilled in him.

“My dad is someone I look up to, and I’m proud to be his son,” Rubalcava said, his normally grinning face turning serious for a moment.

Armed with strong principles taught by his father and an undeniable thirst for adventure, Rubalcava raised his right hand in April 2016 and swore to protect his country. His hard work and dedication paid-off and he finally saw the fruits of his labor when he received orders to Japan.

The command post controller attributes the success he’s found in his career field to his mental toughness and gratitude, among other valuable experiences and lessons learned from his upbringing.

“Going from breaking concrete to this environment, it’s day and night,” Rubalcava said. “That’s why I never really complain, and I’m very appreciative of what I have. I have all of this because of the U.S. Air Force.”

His supervisor, Tech. Sgt. Jazzmine Van Winkle, 18th Wing Command Post senior controller and training manager, praised his ability to be a good wingman and motivate others.

“The rank of staff sergeant is required to become a senior controller, but Rubalcava exhibited leadership qualities worthy of getting a waiver to become one as a senior airman,” she said.

Despite the U.S. Air Force becoming a more inclusive force that encourages diversity, Rubalcava noticed a mindset within his community that he thinks could be discouraging people from volunteering.

“My cousin made a comment on how we’re better suited for the outdoor life, the tough life. That we’re a tough people; we’re fighters and that’s where we belong,” he said. “But I say no, we’re very intelligent and we need to start showing that off more.”

To all the Latino kids with big dreams who think they can’t join the U.S. Air Force because of this mindset, Rubalcava has a message for them: “Stop thinking that way, we definitely need you out here. We need you to come and show that we are smart, we deserve to be in the U.S. Air Force and we can be an asset. Our hard-working culture and mindset can definitely be used here.”