by Alexandro Ramirez, Mission Operations Coordinator
We are the AFW Mission Ops Team, and you’ve probably spoken to us on the phone; however, a phone call or even a series of phone calls can only tell you so much. I’m here to unpack the unique personalities that make up the team.
If you find yourself in Anne’s cubicle at the AFW office, you inhale a breath of fresh air. Why? Because she likes to surround herself with life. Small plants line her workstation, and you may hear the faint sounds of oldies radio or Motown hits playing from a small portable speaker. One of Anne’s trusty companions, a Stanley thermos, carries cups of precious fuel—a daily dose of dark roast. Now, I haven’t pinpointed whether it’s the extra oxygen around her desk, the measured caffeine intake, or the fact that she was a neuroscience major and discovered a way to enhance her hippocampus, but Anne’s memory is awe-inspiring. At will, she summons pilots’ names and their aircraft types, airport identifiers, handy pieces of knowledge, and emails that live in forgotten corners of our mission’s team inbox. Her memory is a boon for mission ops work where we do often rely on institutional knowledge to coordinate. Anne also enjoys the colors yellow and pink and is fond of film scores. She is an excellent and organized writer, consistently putting my emails to shame (which I resent, as I’m an English major). Additionally, as a self-starter, if she puts her mind to a task, you can bet your bottom dollar that it will be done promptly and skillfully. In fact, I’d wager my next check on it.
From her very beginnings with AFW, Isabel has demonstrated a top-level commitment to the organization. If the legends are true, she battled 3 to 4 hours of LA traffic every day. Not only did she show up daily, but she was punctual. For anyone who hasn’t had the delight of dealing with the maniacs on LA’s freeways, a week of doing this would break most people, including the most hardened NAVY Seal. An adventurer at heart, Isabel attended an international school in Europe and composed some of AFW’s finest knowledge base articles while eating chocolate croissants and sipping espressos in Parisian cafes (or at least that’s how I like to picture it). Her fingerprints are all over the documented procedures of Angel Flight West, and the fact that we can use these documents that were first written years and years ago are a testament to how skillfully they were crafted. Isabel has an eagle eye for typos and formatting errors, so I make sure to read anything I’ve written 500 times before sending it her way to be proofed. My efforts are always futile. Isabel enjoys running, hiking, and lounging on the beach. She’s a secret, or not–so-secret, film buff and will play a song 1,000 times in a row if she likes it. She also loves and may be able to handle spicy foods as well as I do, which is the only time I’ll brag in this article.
John has an encyclopedic knowledge of every fun and weird fact in existence. With a lifelong passion for aviation, John’s the guy we turn to with all of our silly questions, and he reliably has the answers. At the very least, he’ll have the perfect video and/or web link up his sleeve to guide us to the light. Furthermore, he’s the designated dad joke teller of the team. Seeing as he’s the only dad, I get to test my mettle against a true master of the craft. But beyond his passion for aviation, he has an ultra-diverse set of skills and experience, including IT, sales, woodworking, and most certainly about a hundred others that he keeps close to the vest. Beyond his roles as the aviation expert and jack of all trades, he’s incredibly valuable because he’s always willing to ask why. This kind of first principles thinking is a driver for innovation and organizational efficiency, and it helps push the team to consider broader questions and examine our procedures from the ground up. You may be able to find John cruising coastal hills on a recently purchased electric bike, which is reminiscent of his time spent dirt biking the hills around Southern California as a kid. It also must be said that no one on the team had a better quarantine transformation than John who became a full-fledged mountain man. It wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t donning a plaid shirt and chopping wood in the backyard after work.
The newest member of the team, Dana, is a refreshing explosion of energy, life, and whimsy. She has been a true gift from on high during the pandemic, and she takes on a vast array of new tasks without so much as a complaint or even a dampening of her good-natured vibe. Dana is wrapping up her final year at UCLA, and she can be found directing plays for Hooligan, her UCLA theater troupe, or applying her newfound baking skills to some delicious end. Along with her sunny disposition, she brings a quick wit and an outstanding work ethic. I think I speak for everyone when I say we’re so thrilled to have her.
Cheri is the superglue that holds the Mission Ops team together with a huge emphasis on the super. As the matriarch of the organization, she brings a wealth of experience that informs our day-to-day work and guides us as we continue to grow. Beside her powerful role as the queen bee of Mission Ops, she has a very keen nose that can pick up even the slightest hint of a rotting orange peel in the kitchen garbage can. But olfactory capacities aside, she’s chock full of boundless love for her grandchildren, great cooking recipes, and Angel Flight West lore. Undoubtedly, humans are storytelling animals, and Cheri proves why we were hard-wired to love and care about them. Her stories about our organization and sister organizations build context about what we do and how we do it, and they impart value and meaning to it all. When she’s absent from team meetings, there’s an unmistakable vacuum that’s impossible to fill. While in her office, you might catch her listening to Kelly Clarkson, or if you ever see her drift off, she may be thinking about the cabin on the lake that will one day be hers. Years of watching the organization change and evolve have not left her stuck in her ways. On the contrary, she is consistently invested in AFW’s growth—always carrying out the mission to serve as many people as possible.
In this story, I’m just the observer, maybe even the unreliable narrator, so take what I say with a grain of salt. It feels tacky to talk about myself, and, plus, I like to keep the mystery alive. Really, what I wanted to capture is the fact that our team is comprised of unique and exquisite individuals, and when we work together, we can accomplish even the loftiest goal. We may be small, but we’re scrappy. Ultimately though, what unifies all of us is our heart. When I look around myself, I see a team filled with endless compassion, and I’m constantly reminded of the best parts of what it means to be human.
This is Isabel. I asked Alexandro for his permission to write about him, but he humbly declined. I’m doing it anyway. (Sorry, Alexandro).
Alexandro is the type of person who you can go to for anything. Feeling stressed and need someone to vent to? Alexandro is there to listen, and really listen. Insanely busy and need someone to help you finish a task before the end of the day? Alexandro has your back, no questions asked, even if that means he has to stay late. Feel like laughing your head off? Alexandro always finds a way.
Alexandro constantly searches for ways to be better, both in his personal and professional life. He is a prime example of what it looks like to have a growth mindset. The word ‘fixed’ doesn’t exist in his (very large) vocabulary. There is always more to learn, more ways to improve, and horizons to broaden. Alexandro cares deeply about doing a good job, but not in a competitive way. He wants to be better, and he wants you to be better, too.
Alexandro is the team’s Spanish speaker, always ready to help with translating. He gets regular shout outs for how kind he treats people and for how much care and attentiveness he gives every person he interacts with.
Gratitude, meditation, surfing, yoga, rock climbing, and South America are just a few topics of regular conversation you will find yourself having with Alexandro. He usually starts his day with an early morning surf session or oceanside run. He is an avid traveler and loves spicy food, and can handle the spice almost as well as I.