Clovis resident in running for national civilian award

USAF: Senior Airman James Bell Ivan Sarracino, 27th Special Operations Equipment Maintenance Squadron, receives the Lt. Gen. Leo Marquez award from Commander, Air Force Special Operations Command, Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster, on Jan. 13. The Leo Marquez award highlights outstanding achievements in the aircraft maintenance and munitions squadrons across the Air Force. Sarracino won the civilian manager aircraft maintenance category.

Gabriel Monte

With 48 years in the Air Force, Clovis resident Ivan Sarracino, 69, still has plenty of room for firsts.

In January he won the Leo Marquez Award for Excellence for the first time. The award was handed to him by Air Force Special Operations Commander Lt. Gen. Donald Wurster. It was his first time meeting a three-star general.

And the award puts him in the running for a national award, called the 2010 General Wilbur L. Creech Maintenance Excellence Award, which gets him a trip to Washington, D.C. — the first time he would visit the nation’s capitol.

Sarracino is headed to Washington, D.C. on April 18 for an award ceremony and reception.

“I don’t expect to win,” he said. “I’m honored just by being chosen. I’d rather be working than in front of people anyway.”

Sarracino said he is excited to see the capitol’s sights, especially the Vietnam Memorial.

Sarracino and three airmen from the 27th Special Operations Equipment Maintenance Squadron at Cannon Air Force Base received the Leo Marquez award on Jan. 13.

According to Cannon Public Affairs Officer Lt. Stephanie Strine, there were 10 awards up for grabs among nominees on base.

Strine said the award highlights outstanding achievements in the aircraft maintenance and munitions squadrons across the Air Force.

At base level, airmen and civilian employees are nominated for the award by their commanders. A board then selects nominees who meet certain criteria for the award.

Winners of the base-level awards then compete with other Leo Marquez winners Air Force-wide.

Sarracino said he felt the award reflects his dedication to his craft and that meeting a three-star general for the first time was an honor.

But nothing beats the first time Sarracino saw an aircraft fly over his village.

“I’m just happy being around aircraft, it’s an adventure for me,” said Sarracino, who grew up on the Laguna Pueblo reservation in Albuquerque.

Sarracino joined the Air Force March 19, 1963. He intended to sign up with the Marines but the recruiter was out to lunch and the Air Force recruiter wasn’t. With two brothers in the Navy, Sarracino became the first in his family to join the Air Force.

It was a decision that led him to a life surrounded by the machines he was so fascinated with as a youth.

First stationed at March Air Force Base in California, Sarracino has worked in the maintenance field painting and repairing aircraft, including 111’s, F-16, and B-52s and KC-135s.

Working on the C-130s and CV-22s stationed at Cannon has taken a bit of getting used to. But as long as he’s working on aircraft, Sarracino is a happy man.

“I’m still enjoying it,” said Sarracino, who paints aircraft with anti-corrosion paints and also trains airmen.

And he tries to instill the same sense of dedication he has into the men he trains.

“I expect quality work,” said Sarracino who has been training airmen in aircraft maintenance for 30 years.

Sarracino said he served in Vietnam for 13 months between 1968 and 1969 at Cam Ranh Bay. For four to five months, he said he was among thousands of servicemen who endured the Tet Offensive.

In 1983 while stationed at Cannon, Sarracino retired from the Air Force. He stayed in Clovis to work at Plains Regional Medical Center as an operating room technician. Sarracino switched to the medical field during his time in the Air Force. He said a hospital was being built at his childhood village and he wanted to work there.

But his passion was with aircraft, so he went back to Cannon in 1986 to work in aircraft maintenance.

The job doesn’t get old for Sarracino, because whenever he sees aircraft he worked on in the air, he feels like a part of him is up there.

“I get a sense of satisfaction seeing it in the air and flying,” said Sarracino who has four children and seven grandchildren. “ I know what area it was (that I painted), whether it was the intake or the wheel wells.”

And, he said he doesn’t see retirement anytime in the near future.

“(I’ll keep doing this) as long as my body holds up,” Sarracino said.

CNJ staff writer Liliana Castillo contributed to this report.