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For the past three years, St. Marys native Rachel Wolfel has been serving in the United State Air Force. She currently holds the rank of Senior Airman and is stationed at Moody Air Force Base in Valdosta, Ga., and works in the 23rd Civil Engineering Squadron in the Engineering and Design shop at the base.
"My duties include construction surveying using conventional Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and automated survey instruments for military construction to include project mapping operations, construction support surveys, road operations, road construction and building and utilities layout surveys," Wolfel explained. "I use conventional and computer-aided drafting (CAD) and apply engineering graphics; architectural, structural and roadway drawings; materials estimating; and map overlays. We also develop, operate and maintain Geographic Information System (GIS) modules, which is similar to Google Earth but is concentrated on military installations. We evaluate potential construction sites and perform field tests on soils, asphalt and concrete. We also manage and inspect construction and maintenance contracts. The architectural aspect of the job includes, but is not limited to, transforming our ideas, rough sketches, specifications and calculations into complete and accurate construction drawings and specifications."
Wolfel noted that one of the most interesting parts of her job is the "cradle to grave" aspect.
"While deployed, Air Force engineers are the first ones in and the last ones out when it comes to planning and building bases," Wolfel said.
Wolfel has already been deployed twice thus far in her military career in direct support of Operation Enduring Freedom, and has been awarded multiple medals for her contributions to the war on terrorism.
Serving in the military has also provided Wolfel with the opportunity to visit several countries and experience an array of different cultures.
"My first base was on a Portuguese military installation in the Azores Islands a few hundred miles off the coast of Portugal," Wolfel said. "Since then, I have had the opportunity to live and train in not only multiple states within the U.S., but (also in) countries such as Portugal, Germany, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Qatar, Kyrgyzstan and Saudi Arabia as well. While deployed, I had the opportunity to work alongside the inter-service U.S. military members, as well as Canadian, British and Australian troops."
Rachel is the daughter of Michael and Lisa Wolfel of St. Marys and the older sister of Chanel, Mike and Jesse Wolfel. She is also the granddaughter of Marilyn and Leroy Secco and Yolanda and Joe Wolfel. She noted that her family has always supported her decision to join the military.
"I've always wanted to be a part of something bigger than myself, and by having the support and love from my family I have been able to achieve that," Wolfel said.
A 2007 graduate of St. Marys Area High School, Wolfel was a four-year letter winner in both varsity volleyball and track and field. Growing up in St. Marys, she was also employed at Slip On Appeal, which is owned and operated by her mother.
Through the Air Force, Wolfel has earned degrees in construction technology and management and architectural drafting. She is also currently working toward her master's degree in civil engineering.
Looking to the future, Wolfel also plans to test for the rank of staff sergeant this coming April.
Though she is happily living in Georgia with her fiance and their two dogs, Wolfel noted that with her busy schedule, she is only able to make it home a few times a year, typically at Easter and Christmas.
"No matter how many places you travel to or where you live, St. Marys offers the comfort of home that is hard to find anywhere else," Wolfel said. "It's funny to think that four years ago all that was on my mind was to graduate high school and get out of Pennsylvania, and now I look forward to the holidays so I can try to come back."