COLUMBUS — Jamie Jakub, a construction specialist with the U.S. Air Force civil engineering unit during his years in the active duty military, knew how to pack in a hurry for military flights to far-flung flash points around the globe.
The 1992 graduate of Scotus Central Catholic threw his bags together for missions to the steamy jungles of El Salvador, the tiniest nation in Central America, to Middle Eastern hotspots in Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
“I graduated in May, signed up for the Air Force in June and went to training in February (1993),” said the 44-year-old former airman. “My college education came in the military.”
In 1994, Jakub’s unit was deployed to South Korea, stationed just south of the demilitarized zone, a buffer separating North Korea and South Korea.
“I know how to pack,” said Jakub, who was a member of the Air Force’s Prime Base Engineer Emergency Force for much of the 1990s and 2000s when the civil engineering unit was deployed to support the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The primary mission of Prime BEEF is to provide civil engineer support for the beddown of personnel and aircraft. Prime BEEF capabilities include airbase site surveys, establishing bare base camps and operations and utility system installation.
Since Prime BEEF forces specialize in airfield operations, they are the primary units considered when establishing and sustaining airfield operations at locations where U.S. Air Force aircraft operate.
“Basically, we go in and build a city from the ground up. We did everything from concrete to plumbing and equipment operations," Jakub said. “I really enjoyed what I did in the service."
His six deployments ranged from several months to a year or more, depending on the scope of the job.
In the 1990s it was humanitarian support lent to ease tensions in the El Salvadoran civil war between an authoritarian government and warring guerrillas. In 1993, it was a trip to Saudi Arabia where the Scud missiles were raining down on both military and civilian personnel.
One of his last deployments came in 2004 for Operation Iraqi Freedom, the U.S. and its allies’ push to topple Saddam Hussein from power. The engineering unit soldiers didn’t have much information on where they were heading.
On that nighttime military flight to the Persian Gulf region, Jakub said the transport plane suddenly veered south of Iraq and deep into the Indian Ocean. The aircraft was headed to Diego Garcia, an island atoll just south of the equator in the central Indian Ocean and home to a large U.S. naval and military base.
“That was a very interesting deployment on a tropical island,” Jakub said. “A lot of the building we did on Diego Garcia was for an airstrip.”
That’s where a good part of the “shock and awe” came from that prompted many of the enemy to surrender and later ousted the Iraqi leader, Jakub said. His last mission was to Israel in 2005 when the unit built a training facility for the Israelis.
After more than a decade in the service, Jakub’s military duties were taking a toll on his body. Repetitive movements involved in his work led to two shoulder operations and other physical complaints.
“It was time to stay home,” said Jakub, who joined the Air National Guard and later volunteered for the local chapter of Disabled American Veterans (DAV).
Jakub volunteers 10 to 15 hours a week helping determine veterans’ eligibility for benefits and services provided through the Veterans Administration and other government agencies.
The local man underwent rigorous training to become certified to provide the assistance to veterans and their families.
The Columbus DAV office, located at 3107 25th St., has served approximately 150 veterans from 2015-17.
“I want to be a lighthouse for disabled vets, an introduction to an organization that reaches out to the VA for service-related benefits they’ve earned,” Jakub said.
“It’s inspirational to get them into the system,” he said.