A master sergeant who once set his sights on being a first sergeant is now exerting a shirt-like influence on Airmen and their families in a different position.
Master Sgt. Joe Ugarte, Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph Military & Family Readiness Center NCO in charge since 2012, is making a difference in the lives of Airmen and their families by ensuring they are prepared to meet the challenges of the deployment cycle.
“I think it’s very important to take care of family members through the duration of a deployment,” he said. “If we can focus on making sure families are OK, the Airmen can focus 100 percent on the mission they’re doing downrange and come back home safely.”
As the readiness NCO, Ugarte develops and provides personal and family readiness services related to the deployment cycle – from pre-deployment to reintegration and post-deployment education and consultation – to Total Force Airmen and their families, said Kathleen Moree, JBSA-Randolph M&FRC chief.
“Master Sgt. Ugarte’s own deployment experiences make him a great fit for this position,” she said. “He has built several relationships with base partners to provide fantastic monthly events for our Hearts Apart program. Over the years he has found events that work for this community, and our partners such as the chaplain service, Yellow Ribbon Spouses, and JBSA-Randolph officers and enlisted clubs look forward to partnering with him each year to make the events better and better.”
Briefings play a major role in Ugarte’s duties as readiness NCO.
“There are six deployment-specific briefings each month,” he said. “We have a pre-deployment personal and family briefing twice a month and a reintegration briefing each week. I tell them about the services and classes we provide at the Military & Family Readiness Center.”
One-on-one sessions with Airmen and their spouses in his office provide them with information about employment and educational opportunities as well as referrals to the Family Advocacy Program’s classes and other resources, Ugarte said.
Since Ugarte is the only military member at the JBSA-Randolph M&FRC, Airmen can easily relate to him, Moree said.
“Often at the end of a briefing, he will be approached for advice or be asked for help with an issue,” she said. “This is a time when he can educate on specific M&FRC programs and make an Airman feel comfortable visiting the center to ask for help or attend a class.”
An annual event allows Ugarte – assisted by a team of more than 100 volunteer Airmen and civilians from JBSA organizations – to educate students at Randolph Elementary School about the deployment process and show them what their parents go through when they deploy to a faraway land.
“Each May, Master Sgt. Ugarte has worked with the Randolph Elementary School principal to host Operation FLAGS, which stands for Families Learning About Global Support,” Moree said. “Students go through a mock deployment to learn what mom or dad may be doing.”
In addition to being educational, the event is enjoyable, Ugarte said.
“First and foremost, we want the kids to enjoy themselves, but at the same time educate them and let them see the different organizations their mom or dad may encounter while they are deployed downrange, whether it’s Afghanistan, Pakistan or Iraq,” he said.
Operation FLAGS features Airmen and civilians from those organizations, including firefighters, explosive ordnance disposal specialists and military working dog handlers and their canines.
Squad leaders even bark commands at the students during the mock deployment, Ugarte said.
“We want them to feel that sense of urgency, just like we feel on a deployment,” he said.
A San Antonio native who enlisted in the Air Force following graduation from high school, Ugarte has served the Air Force as an information technology specialist for base intrusion detection systems. His first duty station was Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, where he served as a video maintenance technician, and he has also been assigned to such locations as Araxos Air Base in Greece and Nellis Air Force Base, Nev.
Ugarte, a 20-year Air Force veteran, was assigned to the Air Force Cryptologic Systems Group at Port San Antonio and fresh off a deployment when the special-duty position as readiness NCO became available.
“I was looking at first sergeant duty, but this position opened up,” he said. “It was a job where I was still able to help Airmen and their families, so it’s been very rewarding to be able to just do that every single day.”
Helping Airmen and their family members brings Ugarte the most satisfaction in his job.
“We have a wealth of resources and helping agencies and we’re able to refer lots of families to different entities in those moments of crisis,” he said. “Deployments are a big thing for family members, and the hardest piece is getting that family through that whole deployment process. That’s a key thing we do here at the center.”