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Not our Watch: determined Reservist proves you can't keep a good man down.

It there's one tiling Senior Master Sgt. Rene Rubiella knows about it's overcoming adversity. From his humble upbringing in Puerto Rico to his struggles with learning English to the death of his daughter, Sergeant Rubiella finds a way to overcome and conquer any and everything he encounters.

Comining from a broken home. Sergeant Rubiella, 920th Operations Group superintendent at Patrick Air Force Base, Fla., faced grim financial times growing up in Puerto Rico, where he was raised by his mother since age 8.

"I remember having only ketchup to put on rice for dinner," he said. "My mom put cardboard inside my shoes to covet holes. I've seen Christmases without toys. You have to accept it and deal with it and make the best of it."

One of the ways he escaped his environment was through athletics. Sergeant Rubiella excelled in water polo, swimming, and track and field. He even trained with the Puerto Rican national team.

"The Puerto Rican water polo selection team trained with my coach, and I was able to be an alternate on the team," he said.

In 1978 he decided to come to the United States to try and improve his financial situation and make a good life for himself.

"I had $362 saved and enough money to ship my 1970 Volkswagen Beetle from Puerto Rico to Miami," Sergeant Rubiella said. "When I got to the port in Miami, I took a taxi to the dock to get my car, threw my clothes in the trunk, turned on the key and said, 'Here I am.'"

Although he had relatives living in Florida, no one was willing to take him in. so his first month in the states was quite interesting.

"For the most part, I slept in the back seat of my VW Beetle in front of a convenience store in Hollywood, Fla.," Sergeant Rubiella said. "I showered at the YMCA and budgeted for a small pint of milk, a Twinkie and a newspaper every day, to look for work."

After about a year, he decided that if he was going to improve himself, he was going to have to do something. The "something" he decided to do was join the military.

But joining the military presented a new challenge. Because he lived in South Florida, where he could get by just fine speaking only Spanish, his English-speaking skills were poor. He needed to improve in this area if he was going to succeed and reach his goal.

"I struggled with the English language," Sergeant Rubiella said. "There's no way to describe how difficult that was. I got through basic training and tech school by the grace of God."

He learned to speak English by watching a lot of television and imitating phrasing and timing. His hard work and determination paid off, as the sergeant has served a total of 27 years in the military.

In addition to his commitment to the military, Sergeant Rubiella is a devoted community servant. For the past 10 years, he has worked every Wednesday at Daily Bread, a soup kitchen in Melbourne, Fla., helping prepare and serve meals for the homeless, sometimes up to 250 people a day.

"People begin to migrate here in the morning," Sergeant Rubiella said. "Sometimes it's families with a mom and kids. It's heartbreaking."

"He's just one of those people with an aura," said Beth Laing, executive assistant at Daily Bread. "In addition to working here, he is involved with many other charitable events. He's one of a kind. He brightens up the room when he comes here."

Sergeant Rubiella is scheduling members of the 920th RQW's Top 3 organization to work one day every 90 days in the kitchen.

Another of his community service projects is working with the local Habitat for Humanity, something he's been doing since 1992.

"Saturdays I go to Habitat," he said. "It's my passion and love. I wouldn't do it any other way. There's always a project going on, a house to be built or remodeled."

"Rene not only sweats. but he puts his heart into it," said Steve Layton, a site supervisor for Habitat for Humanity. "He gels to know homeowners. He's the most passionate worker I've got."

While Sergeant Rubiella pours his heart into all of his charity work, the most personal endeavor he's tackled to date is Operation NOW. which stands for Not On our Watch, an in-your-face program designed to show high school students the results of making bad decisions and the consequences of careless driving. The program, which is a partnership involving the 920th RQW, the 45th Space Wing at Patrick, and public and private enterprises, is designed to shock teenagers into being more careful drivers.

Sadly, the idea for Operation NOW came as a result of the death of Sergeant Rubiella's daughter, Alexandra. Allie, as she was known, was killed in 2005 while driving home from breakfast one morning. Sergeant Rubiella said her driving inexperience was a factor in the accident that look her life.

"Every day I relive the moment I had to say good-bye to Allie," he said. "No parent should have to go through that."

Col. Timothy Tarchick, former 920th commander, approached Sergeant Rubiella about putting together a program to help other teens. They used a program at Niagara Falls International Airport Air Reserve Station, N.Y., as a model for developing Operation NOW.

The program at Patrick was conducted for the first lime April 11, just one year after Allie's death. Every high school senior in Brevard County attended. Sergeant Rubiella has big plans to expand the program.

"My intent is to lake the program statewide to 22 trauma centers and the 67 counties," he said, "and to have it be a requirement for high school students in order to graduate."

Sergeant Rubiella said he's received support for his proposal from the Florida Department of Transportation.

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"I think this (developing the program) will eventually be a full-time job for me," he said. "My goal is to have it nationwide in seven years."

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The next Operation NOW event is scheduled for March 20-23, once again at Patrick AFB. Sergeant Rubiella said he expects more than 7,000 students to participate.

This year's program will include various guest speakers, including someone from the county district attorney's office, a trauma surgeon, a teen who is currently serving time for a driving mishap, a victim of an accident and a parent who has lost a child in a car accident. The event will feature several re-enactments, such as accidents, 911 calls and a rescue attempt.

"This year will be more graphic," he said. "Kids today are very visually oriented, and I'll get more results if I show them rather than tell them.

"We will have a re-enactment of a trauma surgery room where a kid ends up flat-lining. On the other side, the parents are looking through. The kids will get the real essence of agony."

Students will also be shown some very-graphic footage taken at actual accident scenes. They will file out of the event through a row of coffins, each with a mirror inside and the message, "This could be you."

"We are walking a fine line between making the kids sick and educating them," said Jim Wilson, training officer for the Melbourne Fire Department, after last year's event.

In addition to developing Operation NOW to help others. Sergeant Rubiella has been busy helping himself through education. He earned a bachelor's degree from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and is well on his way to a dual master's degree in safely and human factors.

"Not bad for someone who in 1978 spoke almost no English and had only $362 and a WW Sergeant Rubiella said. "Hopefully, by the end of the decade, I'll have my Ph.D."

Throughout his last semester, school administrators, mindful of the personal tragedy he had endured, encouraged him to take some time off, but he continued going to class, so everyone was aware of what he was going through.

"At graduation he said, This is for my daughter,' and he pulled out a photo of Allie." said Jake Senior, an Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University classmate of Sergeant Rubiella and a former 920th RQW Reservist. "There wasn't a dry eye in the place.

"He's been a friend and a role model. The whole community looks at Rene as a role model. I wish I could be half the man and father he was. He's such an inspiration in my life. His perseverance is amazing. You can deal him any hand, and he'll come out on top. You can't help but have a good day when you are around him."

Through it all, Sergeant Rubiella finds a way to make bad situations better, and he usually does it with a smile, which goes to the core of his beliefs.

"Happiness is a choice you make intentionally, regardless of circumstances." he said, "It's about you."

(Sergeant Babin is a traditional Reservist

By Master Sgt. Chance C. Batain
COPYRIGHT 2007 Air Force Reserves
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Copyright 2007 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Batain, Chance C.
Publication:Citizen Airman
Date:Feb 1, 2007
Words:1504
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