From Friends to Wingmen

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Zoe Wockenfuss
  • 171 Air Refueling Wing

How far is Alaska from New Mexico? 3,673 miles; that is the distance the friendship of Staff Sergeants Jerrad Skone and Bob Ruzewski endured during a four year active duty enlistment in the U.S. Air Force.

The two met in third grade at Stewartsville Elementary School in Irwin, Pennsylvania, where they did almost everything together. From playing on the playground to joining cub scouts together, they were practically brothers. Going from elementary all the way through high school by each other’s sides, each of them have a lot of stories they could share. For instance, they both picked up wakeboarding and competed in several nearby states even getting to the level of being sponsored by several wakeboarding companies.

“Wherever we were going, whatever we were doing, Jerrad was always there,” said Ruzewski.

Both Skone and Ruzewski felt a calling to serve their country from a young age. They both enlisted in the Air Force with the desire to be in security forces earning the title, “Defender”. Unfortunately, Air Force members are often separated from their friends and family, sometimes by a few states, other times by oceans. But that’s just the nature of the job. Service members recognize and accept that the mission comes first. Ultimately, the Air Force sends people where they need them the most. And Skone and Ruzewski were needed 3,673 miles apart from one another. Skone was stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska, while Ruzewski was at Cannon Air Force Base, New Mexico.

The two have been following very similar paths for years to include both of them completing basic training. They each began their path in 2016, Skone in June and Ruzewski in October. Within the same career field, though at very different bases, they experienced many of the same things while individually excelling in different aspects. Skone found that his strong suit was being a dispatcher; while Ruzewski thrived at patrolling.

They deployed to very different locations in the world compared to one another. Skone deployed to Eareckson Air Station on the tiny, 12 square mile island of Shemya, in the Alaskan Aleutian Islands and Ruzewski deployed to Al Asad Air Base, in the vast desert of Iraq. Their daily tasks were very similar, including providing security and maintaining the safety of their respective installations. Whether drenched by rain or dripping in sweat, Skone and Ruzewski underwent the same challenges of deployed life for six months. They both returned, each having earned an Air Force Achievement medal for their individual accomplishments.

Throughout the years, the two were able to get approval for leave at the same times. They both flew home to Pittsburgh for their first Christmas after going through basic training and again a few years later to do the recruiters assistance program together.

“Even though we were only home for a week or less, it was always nice when we got to catch up,” said Skone.

After completing four years of service on active duty, they both decided to separate and continue their service in the Air National Guard. Skone and Ruzewski returned to their home state and are now members of the 171st Security Forces Squadron in Pittsburgh. It was there that they promoted to the rank of staff sergeant; once again sharing a similar task of becoming supervisors to young Airmen. For the first time in their military careers they were able to deploy together in support of Operation Capitol Response II in Washington D.C. from January to March 2021.

Similar to the beginning of their Air Force careers, Skone and Ruzewski started their Pennsylvania law enforcement careers at the same police academy. They were in two different cycles but graduated less than a year apart. Their time serving in security forces benefitted them greatly by providing them the opportunity to take an assessment that exempted them from portions of the police academy based on their knowledge and experience in military law enforcement. This drastically reduced their required time at the academy.

From cub scouts to Defenders; from best friends to wingmen; and from Airmen to Guardsmen, they have proven to be brothers in arms from day one.