Sonia Ellis’ Young Adult Novels Inspire a Future of Women in STEM

By Allyson Morin

WESTFIELD, Mass–From her laptop screen, author Sonia Ellis’ second novel TimeTilter gently illuminates her breezy pale green kitchen. Several years ago, the former chemical engineer made a radical career change to write young adult novels that aim to engage underrepresented youth with science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) concepts.

“It was a little easier to write the first book because it was a younger audience. This book is targeted to a more sophisticated 6th to 8th grade audience so I had to be more aware about how to present these topics in a way that was engaging and not in any way lecturing,” said Ellis, who scrapped two or three 100-page false starts from the novel’s conception in 2014.

Her first book, a young adult mystery novel titled Talk To Me, introduced principles of artificial intelligence, engineering design and engineering ethics to children as early as fourth grade.

The second novel, TimeTilter, incorporates elements of bioengineering, the principles of biomimicry, construction, sustainability and explores the outer limits of what engineering can achieve. Importantly, the novel is written from a feminist approach to interest middle schoolers, a critical period as research shows middle school to be the age most girls lose confidence in their ability to pursue STEM.

The 53-year-old mother of two works with a team of professors, students, artists, videographers, and educators from Smith College and Springfield Technical Community College on the Through My Window project, funded by a grant the National Science Foundation. TimeTilter, the second and final book produced under the grant, will appear in print and online this fall.

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Ellis says the traditional method of coating STEM concepts in pink and glitter simply does not work. What does work? Engaging narrative and strong female role models.

The author received her bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Pennsylvania in 1986, where she received numerous honors for academic achievement.  She received her master’s degree in chemical engineering from Princeton University in 1988.

“Why I made the change in career is the story behind why we are doing this project at all. I was one of the lucky ones. My dad was a chemical engineer. He and my mom were so supportive to my older sister and me that we could absolutely become engineers. We both went on to get advanced degrees in engineering,” Ellis said.

Ultimately however, she made the personal choice to forgo her doctorate in chemical engineering to shift her focus to writing instead.

“When I looked around myself at my class what did I see? I didn’t see female faces among the students or the faculty. It wasn’t just about being female in a male dominated world. It wasn’t just community, it was tied in with identity… I didn’t feel like I had the stereotypical identity of an engineer. The reality is, engineering is a gigantic world. You can do so many different things if you’re a creative person, if you’re good at communication and teamwork or you are a writer like me, there are different ways you can use your skills to be a really good engineer,” Ellis said animatedly, pushing her long brown bangs away from her kind eyes as she spoke with a smile.

Her office is located down the hallway from her cozy kitchen, nestled in an annex off her small den. The office is the nicest room in the house with a skylight and sliding glass doors leading to a fenced back yard where the many dogs that pass through the house run wild. Natural light spills through the large panes of glass to illuminate the soft gray walls. There are two desks painted with a dusty blue lacquer purchased from Ezra’s Mercantile in downtown Westfield, Mass. Between the desks, low bookshelves cram in front of an exposed brick wall while by the window sits a black futon covered in dog hair.

Ellis doesn’t spend any time writing in her office, although she might be found there singing, playing the ukulele, or photographing small objects from interesting angles. Her clean desk is desk drawers are well organized, the pens separated from the pencils in white drawer organizers that remain mostly undisturbed. Ellis finds her creative energy when she is on the move—in the car, on a walk, or pacing around the house. She is of medium build, with dark eyes and dark hair contrasting a light complexion. Her affinity for long, colorful skirts reveals a lean towards artistic pursuits. Her two dogs, a golden retriever named Chase and an Australian cattle dog named Bleu as well as her housemate’s gentle mutt Tripoli are happy for the long walks spent in creative contemplation.

“I can’t sit and be creative. Every single breakthrough I’ve had on this book when I’ve been stuck and need to move forward has been on a car ride, on a walk, or in the shower,” Ellis said.

In the past, her shower has housed a waterproof pad of paper and a pencil in case inspiration strikes.

TimeTilter follows the story of a 16-year-old girl named Singer, born with a disability from a perinatal stroke. She never feels valued or loved in her home where it is clear her parents value perfection above all else. When one of the family’s agility golden retrievers becomes injured, her parents decide to abandon the dog. This prompts Singer to embark on a rescue mission as she sees her own imperfections mirrored in her canine friend.

This is when she is kidnapped and thrown into the TimeTilter, a scientific experiment on human perception’s limitations of time and sight. Children chosen for experimentation are homeless or runaways, like Singer, who will not be missed. Part of Singer’s growth is coming to understand her own value and her own sense of worth as she uses communication and teamwork—the fundamentals of STEM—to escape.

In March, the project team heads to Girls Inc. National Training in Indianapolis. Ellis and Through My Window outreach coordinator Isabelle Huff will deliver a presentation to Girl Scout Leaders interested in implementing the program with their troops.

Huff has been involved with the project for seven years since she was an undergraduate at Smith College. She was in a similar outreach program as a middle schooler and said she is excited to work on the other end.

“There is not a lot of people doing what we’re doing,” Huff said, joking that Talk To Me is the Harry Potter of STEM literature for its ability to capture the imagination of a younger generation.

“We have relatable, emotionally engaging characters. The students are asking questions and engaging as if they are characters in the story. The book shows that engineering is about helping people in society,” Huff said of why narrative helps girls generate interest in STEM.

This approach to engineering is approachable to young boys as well, as teachers implement Through My Window in co-ed classrooms. Ellis said she was sure to create strong, complex male characters for young boys to relate to.

While K-12 education sees girls score on par with their male counterparts in mathematics and science, as students move towards higher education, the gap widens. While women receive over half of bachelor’s degrees awarded in the biological, they receive only 17.9 percent of bachelor’s degrees in computer sciences, 19.3 percent of bachelor’s degrees in engineering and 39 percent of physical science bachelor’s degrees according to the NSF’s Women, Minorities, and People with Disabilities in Science and Engineering (2015).

Through My Window instructional designer and middle school science educator Lauren Binger says that statistics often paint a more equal picture than reality reflects. Many statistics factor healthcare into the biological sciences offshoot of STEM, which skews the data as women are highly represented as nurses.

“Women tend to be in lower paid positions in STEM,” Huff agreed.

As the NSF funding comes to an end, Ellis says she feels hopeful and passionate about this women-led effort to empower the next generation of women as they choose career paths. Talk To Me has been developed into learning curriculum, an audio book, interactive games, as well as translated to Spanish.

“Are kids right now engaged? Is there a growing number of teachers using this program? Yes. In the field, Through My Window appears to be working,” said Ellis.

Her kind eyes light up as she describes how proud she is to be part of a community that empowers women.

“Through My Window has truly emotional meetings. There are lots of women in the room with amazing, creative ideas who feel so passionate about the work they do. It’s nice to be a part of something you care about,” Ellis said.

In the future, Ellis plans to continue publishing young adult novels and education materials.

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Five Seconds of Everything with Kimberly Cruz

By Allyson Morin

SPRINGFIELD, Mass–

 

I sat down to discuss the challenges of novel writing with high school of Commerce senior Kimberly Cruz. Cruz is the author of five novels on a story-sharing site called Wattpad where her most popular work, “Night and Day” garnered 2,600 reads. She is a prolific writer with a passion for storytelling.

Her drafts are home to nine additional novels in various stages of completion.

On Oct. 12, 2016 Cruz wrote:

“I first knew I wanted to be a journalist when I started sixth grade. I would always have a notebook full of stories, whether it was fan fiction, teen fiction, or other type of stories. I always wanted to publish one of my own, but I knew that it would take a long time. So I decided that while I’m in the process of my writing, I would work for the newspaper or the magazines where I interview people or write a paper on someone or something important to in life to people. That’s why I thought I would move to New York, go to college to improve my writing skills. After college I would stick around, live there, and try to work for one of their newspaper companies. New York is one the the cities where writers can make it. I see things in a way nobody else sees. I want to share my words.”

UMass Nursing Snags Grant for Sleep and Stress Research

 

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UMass Life Sciences Building (Allyson Morin/Amherst Wire)Enter a caption

 

 The goal is to use data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms.

AMHERST — The University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Nursing has begun researching fatigue and stress management in chronic illness patients after receiving a $1.23 million research grant from the National Institute of Nursing Research earlier this year.

Stress and fatigue are detrimental to people experiencing chronic illness and can prolong or worsen their symptoms. Poor rest and high stress can also cause various symptoms such as weight gain, anxiety and magnification of pain — particularly in individuals suffering from chronic illnesses, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

UMass was one of only six research centers nationwide to receive this grant, according to Cynthia Jacelon, a professor of nursing.

The UMass College of Nursing used the grant to create the “UManage Center,” an umbrella term that refers to the interdisciplinary team working on the project. The team hopes to create a physical space for the UManage Center in the coming years.

“The hope is to move in the direction to create a physical space. We want to involve the community with focus groups targeted on sleep and fatigue,” said Annette Wysocki, the assistant dean for research at the College of Nursing.

The grant will also fund 10 interdisciplinary pilot research studies over the next five years. Innovative sleep monitoring devices are at the center of this research study.

“We want to use technology to help inform people so they can figure out how to self-manage their symptoms,” Wysocki said.

The research aims to help patients better manage their symptoms between hospital and doctor visits.

Chronic illness patients experience between four and ten symptoms, according to Wysocki, which complicates treatment efforts. Developing new technologies will help patients better understand their symptoms at home.

The nurse-led interdisciplinary teams will collaborate with other on-campus departments and use the laboratories and equipment in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences on campus.

The grant will provide UMass nursing students real-world opportunities to gain experience in the medical field.

“It is going to, if successful … enhance the amount of work that faculty can do in this area. There will be more classes, space and resources to bring to UMass to maintain expertise,” said Rebecca Spencer, a sleep expert supporting researchers in the study.

Wysocki said she hopes this research will lead to partnerships with companies and subsequent funding to develop more devices to help patients in other areas.

The first two research projects are headed by nursing faculty Rachel Walker and Karen Kalmakis.

Walker’s team will help cancer survivors monitor and self-manage persistent fatigue through the development of a wearable eye-tracking technology to provide patient feedback.

Kalmakis’ team will study physiological stress indicators such as cortisol in sweat as an indicator of stress to help patients improve their sleep hygiene.

“The biggest danger when adding stress and fatigue to an existing condition is that it amplifies health problems. It is harder to take care of yourself when you are sleep deprived,” Spencer said. “Sleep health helps us make good decisions.”

To try to quantify rest, researchers will place electrodes on patients’ heads to gather technical data on sleep stages. A non-invasive FitBit style watch will be used in an actigraphy test which monitors patterns of awakeness and rest over a period of several nights. Patients will also answer questionnaires about their rest habits.

According to Wysocki, the goal is to use this data to enable patients to take charge of their symptoms — whether that be adjusting pain medication dosage, engaging in physical activity or practicing mindfulness techniques like meditation and deep breathing.

Studies show equal outcomes for treating insomnia from a non-medical perspective as compared to a medicinal approach. Spencer says she wants to attack fatigue by focusing on behavior change and intervention.

“If the data shows patients consistently sleep short or go to bed late, it helps us to say: Here are things you can change about your day in order to go to bed early,” said Spencer.

Sleep and stress issues can also negatively impact a patient’s physical symptoms. Wysocki, who has an extensive background in wound care, said these factors “can also thin your skin and create problems with healing.”

Significant Mileage: My Mom’s 18-year Running Streak

By Allyson Morin

At 4:44 a.m., my mom Beth’s alarm goes off for school.  Before she begins the 45-minute commute to her fifth-grade classroom to work as a math teacher, she goes through her routine like clockwork.  She lets out the dogs, eats oatmeal, talks to her father on the phone, watches the news with a coffee, and finally hops on the treadmill for her daily 5-mile run.  She does this every day without fail.

She has missed only three runs since May 1, 1998.  That’s 6,692 days of running.

On May 1, 1998, now 45-year-old Beth began her running streak.  At that point she already had a two-year streak having taken zero days off since my birth.  Before then, she had run every day since 1994. After taking a day off to give birth to my younger sister Alexa, born on April 29, 1998, she was back in her running shoes two days later.

A running streak is defined as running at least one mile every day—no days off.  The longest female running streak on record is held by 79-year-old Lois Bastien who began her streak on April 18, 1980.  Her streak lasted 13,280 days or just over 36 years.

Beth runs between four and six miles on her treadmill in the exercise room of her two-story house.  Every morning for upwards of an hour the house shakes while she pounds out her daily mileage.  It keeps her lean, fast, and slightly neurotic.

“Why do you do it?” I ask.

In April 1988 when my mother was 18-years old, she jumped off a cliff on impulse.  She had a crush on a boy who had run and jumped off into the water just before.

“Everyone always says I’m impulsively doing stupid things.  I thought about that as I was running towards the edge.  I hesitated and didn’t have the momentum to make it past the solid rocks at the bottom.  I missed the water and hit the rocks,” she said.  She didn’t realize right away the severity of the injury due to shock.

It shattered both her feet.  She spent several months and completed her graduation walk confined to plaster casts.

“I had an epiphany as I was running this morning,” said Beth.  As usual, she’s sweaty and has just finished a six-mile run. “After I shattered my feet I realized I was so lucky to be able to walk that I might as well be running.  I wanted to see if I could do it.”

“I don’t run that far because I want to be able to wake up and do it again tomorrow,” she says.

Beth has had her fair share of long runs.  As a college student, she routinely ran for hours—when she wasn’t hung over.  In those days she had no problem taking days off when life got hectic.  Once, when my sister and I were still in a jogging stroller, Beth ran over 20 miles on the Hadley bike trail.

“I passed out on the kitchen floor from dehydration when I got home.  I thought I was going to die.  It wasn’t smart but I wanted to see if I could do it,” Beth said.

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In March 2014, when I ran my first half marathon (I finished in an hour and 25 minutes), Beth ran a half marathon on her treadmill.

“I wanted to see if I could do it,” she said.  She finished in 1:38:23.

My mom has a lifetime warranty on her treadmills, which she abuses.  She runs them to the ground.  Her first three machines capped out at 9,999 miles before needing to be replaced.  The fourth one she broke at 10,380 miles.  The mileage counter on the treadmills only shows four digits.

“I wanted to see what would happen if I took it over that edge,” she said.  She stopped at 10,380 because it is divisible by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 10.  It’s a significant number.

Her current treadmill, as of August 26, 2016, is at 4,676 miles.

“It’s at 4,676 miles! You got that? Write it down!” she yelled from upstairs.  It isn’t a significant number, it’s only divisible by 2 and 4.  I’m always being texted photos of significant numbers, whether it’s the car mileage or treadmill mileage.

“It’s hard to explain what makes a number significant.  I like when numbers are divisible by other numbers.  Sometimes I run extra miles to make treadmill mileage divisible by 2 or 4 or 6.  Same with the car odometer,” she says.

Beth and I both have synesthesia, which is “the production of a sense impression relating to one sense or part of the body by stimulation of another sense or part of the body” according to Wikipedia. I think that description does a poor job of explaining the way we see the world.

For us, color and temperature are tied closely to numbers.  For example, the number 2 is always red, 3 is pink, and 8 is green.  I see the number 5, I feel warm orange. I see my mom, I see the number 8 and a very cool, dark green that smells like pine sap. It’s weird and hard to explain, but it’s satisfying to see numbers that relate closely together.

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I interrupt her, “Hang on a minute, you’re wearing my running socks.  You’re always stealing my goddamn socks!”  I work in a running specialty store and often come home with really sweet socks.

“Define *your*.  I’m the reason you run in the first place so…” she says.

It’s true, I must admit.  My whole life I’ve busted my ass to keep up with my mom.  At one point I could run an 18-minute 5K, a 5:11 mile, and an 11-minute 2 mile… setting high school records but with the knowledge that if my mom were running with me I’d be blown into the dust.

She tells me that when I run, she’s always just behind me and slightly to the left, just like she was in the early days when we ran together when I was a kid.

Her running streak isn’t a true streak, she admits, but I’m not so sure that matters.  In the last 18+ years, she has taken three days off.  One day for the “worst flu of her life”, another when she pulled her Achilles jumping on a trampoline while on vacation in Maine, and finally for the day she spent painting the house.  It had taken her from early morning to past midnight.  There physically weren’t enough minutes left in the day to sneak a run in.  It bothers her to talk about her off days.

“How long do you hope to keep this up?” I asked several weeks ago as we ran around the neighborhood together.

“Until I die,” she answered.

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Beth has been running her whole life.  In sixth grade, she started the Cheshire Running Club with neighborhood kids.  This got her younger sister Amy into running, which she continues to this day.

“I always made her run farther than me.  I’d yell at her like a coach,” my mom said.

My mother keeps scrapbooks painstakingly pieced together of her running career.  Hand drawn awards in her mother’s spidery handwriting congratulate her for completing 19 miles.  The club’s emblem is a “C” with lightning bolts coming out the sides.

In middle school and high school, she competed in the 100-yard dash, 100-yard hurdles, and 4×100 yard relay.  Later on, the measurements changed to meters.  In 8th grade, she set the record in the 4×100 relay.  In her scrapbooks, she keeps newspaper clippings, bib numbers, even the safety pins from that time.  She was also a half-back on the soccer team from 7th grade to 12thgrade.

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“Can you find and bring down some of your old running stuff?” I ask.  Her story feels important to me, and this piece of her history isn’t something she talks about often.  To see the physical evidence of such a consistent career somehow will make it more real for me.

“If you give me 10 seconds I could find it right now.  Actually—don’t start counting—I’m only walking to get it.”

My mom has spent my entire life running.  I’ve never known her any other way, just like I have never known her without her thick circles of dark brown eyeliner and muscles strong enough to run machines to the ground.  I’m not certain of many things, but I do know for sure that she will never stop running.

What Climate Change Means for Maple Syrup

By Allyson Morin

PETERSHAM, Mass.–In a small maple sugar shack in the Harvard Forest, Dr. Joshua Rapp is having a sweet Saturday.  The adjunct professor is boiling maple sap into syrup on an unusually warm Mar. 5.  It is the sticky side effect of his research on the effect of climate change on maple sap quality which received a two-year, $149,800 grant from the Northeast Climate Science Center.

“One thing we have found is that there are more phenolics in the sap the further south you go in the sugar maples’ range.  That suggests that the warmer temperatures and the longer growing seasons experienced further south in the range may lead to a greater production of these phenolic compounds,” says Rapp.

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Collection bags hang from maple trees at the Harvard Forest in Petersham, Mass. on Saturday, Mar. 5, 2016.  The sap will be weighed and tested for sugar content by Dr. Joshua Rapp of the University of Massachusetts as part of ongoing research.

Phenolics are the main class of chemical found in maple sap. They are a natural defense mechanism found in many plants that protects against invaders and imparts distinct flavors to our favorite foods.

“We have a grant from the Northeast Climate Science Center which is based at UMass, it is part of the [United States Geological Survey].  They fund research looking at natural and cultural systems and how they are affected by climate change,” says Rapp.

An increase of phenolics in the sap will create darker, stronger tasting syrup for local maple producers.  Traditionally, darker syrups fetched less in the marketplace than lighter syrups.

“We look at maples, sugar maples particularly, as a cultural resource because not only are they part of the natural ecosystem but are highly beloved by humans not only for their spectacular fall color but for the maple syrup we can produce from them.  The history of maple syrup goes back centuries to the Native Americans,”said Rapp.

The grant funds a collaborative field data collection effort from Virginia to Quebec.  It also allows the researchers to conduct surveys on maple syrup producers.  The researchers are utilizing data dating back to the civil war to locate trends in production.

At the Harvard Forest, Rapp conducts his research at the tap.  He measures the weight of the sap, analyses the sugar content, and collects samples for phytochemical analysis.  This data quantifies how production changes year to year.

Warmer temperatures mean a shorter tapping season for producers.  This year’s sap collection began earlier and finished sooner than in previous years, with less yield.  This means bad news for farmers looking to turn a profit.

Dr. Kevin McGarigal of the Department of Environmental Conservation at the University of Massachusetts says, “What can be done, other than obviously reversing the anthropogenic causes of climate change, is to protect, manage and restore habitat and populations to the extent feasible so that populations can be sustained for long enough to hopefully adapt.”

Next, Rapp says that he and the research team hope to conduct taste tests of syrups produced in different parts of the range in a controlled setting as a way to judge consumer preferences and how that preference correlates to the chemistry of the sap.

104th FW Participates in Exercise Atlantic Spear, Boar’s Nest

SAVANNAH, Ga – Airmen and jets from the 104th Fighter Wing at Barnes Air National Guard Base in Westfield, Ma., are participating in Exercise Atlantic Spear from Aug. 14-27.

This robust training exercise is a multi-faceted event designed to test and enhance the air to air dogfighting capabilities of participating fighter pilots in a simulated combat environment. During the exercise, 104th FW pilots have the opportunity to integrate with other platforms from across the military including units from Georgia, Texas, South Carolina, Florida, Oregon and California.

Exercise Atlantic Spear is being hosted at the Air Dominance Center (ADC), Savannah, Ga. Previously named the Combat Readiness Training Center, the ADC is an ideal location for large-scale fighter integration training due to its proximity to neighboring aerial units and vast coastal airspace which allows aircraft to ascend up to 60 thousand feet.

 Lt. Col. David Halasi-Kun, the 131st Fighter Squadron commander, recognizes the value of this joint training.

 “We are building partnerships with all the other platforms, F-18 Falcons, F22 Raptors and F-35’s. What is unique about this deployment is that we have our own exercise, Atlantic Spear and were also invited to participate in the Boar’s Nest Exercise, a relatively large air to ground scenario, ” said

Halasi-Kun. “We turned it into an air to ground and air to air joint exercise.”

Halasi-Kun also appreciates the freedom of airspace at Savannah.

“Similar to our training in Hawaii, we can operate in unrestricted airspace with no supersonic restrictions and plenty of altitude.  The dimensions allow for 30 or 40 aircraft to participate and we don’t have to worry about deconflicting by time or altitude,” he said.  “The ADC possesses the infrastructure to allow us to monitor the ‘battle’ and simultaneously track all the aircraft.  Range training officers are on the ground making independent assessments to determine the winners of each exchange,” said Halasi-Kun.

 “Savannah is a great deployment. Everything is already in place. We show up, plug in and we are integrated into the whole exercise,” he said.

 These simulated dogfight exchanges are proving a rigorous test of the 104th Fighter Wing’s operational and tactical capabilities. Although, during many of these simulated engagements, 104th pilots have frequently outmaneuvered their adversaries and demonstrated a level of expertise that left little doubt as to the victor.

 Exercise Atlantic Spear is also proving to be worthwhile training for the ground crew.

 Tech Sgt. Greg Liptak, a member of the 104th Maintenance Group, has been impressed by the development of younger Airmen in a deployed environment. “It is great to see the next generation performing so well,” he said.

 “These young Airmen are very capable and confident in their abilities. Based on what I’ve seen here and back home at Barnes, I feel good about the next generation at the 104th,” said Liptak.

 The skills learned and tested at Atlantic Spear allow 104th Airmen to prepare for any contingency and enhance mission readiness.

 The 104th Fighter Wing Operations Support Flight commander, Lt. Col Sean Halbrook, has found the training at the ADC to be particularly instructive given the potential for future deployments.

 “We have incorporated different platforms as adversaries-F-22, F-18, F-16- in coordination with the Boar’s Nest Exercise. Intelligence has also provided us with injects to be prepared for any contingency,” said Halbrook, who serves as the project officer during the deployment.

 “Atlantic Spear has been a valuable training exercise and good preparation as we gear up for upcoming deployments,” said Halbrook.

104th FW Participates in multinational exercise in Malaysia

By Staff Sgt. Matt Benedetti, Public Affairs, Public Affairs

BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, WESTFIELD, Mass. — Airmen from the 104th Fighter Wing took part in Exercise Cope Taufan 2014, a biennial large force exercise between the Royal Malaysian Air Force (RMAF) and the United States Air Force from June 9-20, 2014.

The objective of Exercise Cope Taufan is to enhance the combined readiness and interoperability of the Malaysian and U.S Air Forces while promoting peace and stability in the region. The deployment also demonstrates a U.S. capability to project forces strategically in a combined, joint environment.

The tactical and cultural exchange provided 104th pilots the opportunity to engage with F-22 Raptors of the Hawaii Air National Guard and MIG 29 Fulcrums of the Royal Malaysian Air Force in a realistic live-fly training environment.

The Southeast Asian exercise marked the farthest distance the 104th FW has deployed the F-15 Eagle and support personnel, as well as the first training exercise outside the continental United States (OCONUS). The austere conditions at the air base, RMAF Butterworth, and oppressive heat, reaching 100% humidity at times, presented a myriad of challenges for the Massachusetts Guardsmen.

The expedition proved a rigorous test of the unit’s operational and logistical capabilities.

Col. Alex Haldopoulos, 104th Operations Group Commander, found the deployment to be a vital training opportunity for pilots and maintenance personnel.

“Cope Taufan was a great tactics sharpener and relationship builder,” said Haldopoulos, a native of Peachtree, Georgia and resident of Longmeadow, Massachusetts.

“It is important for our unit to deploy OCONUS and practice our tactics, techniques and procedures in order to continue to perform the defensive and offensive counter air missions that we focus on. At Cope Taufan we were able to practice these tactics with the F-22 Raptors and against the Mig 29 Fulcrums,” said Haldopoulos. “As well, we were able to work closely with our partners in the Hawaiian Air National Guard in the Pacific Command area of responsibility. It was a great experience,” he said.

Haldopoulos grew to appreciate the distance between the U.S and the Malaysian peninsula.

“From a logistics perspective, we learned some valuable lessons. Ensuring that we bring the equipment most commensurate with the need and conceptualizing the distance required to ship items was important,” said Haldopoulos. “As our military pivots to Asia, we need to recognize the investment in infrastructure required to reflect that commitment.”

Flying against aircraft of the former Soviet platform was a huge benefit to the pilots.

“Most of our guys had never flown against a MIG,” he said. “Prior to deploying, we spoke extensively about engaging these aircraft; so flying against them in a basic fighter maneuver environment was an invaluable training experience.”

“I have flown for a long time, but have to admit it that flying against the Mig 29 was an exhilarating experience,” he added.

During these simulated engagements, the 104th pilots consistently outmaneuvered their adversaries and demonstrated a level of expertise that left little doubt as to the victor.

“Our pilots represented the USAF well and our maintenance folks went above and beyond. They did a fantastic job-working late and doing extra tasks to allow us to perform at the highest level,” he said.

Chief Master Sgt. Richard Tudisco, the 104th Maintenance Squadron Superintendent and non-commissioned officer in charge, was pleased with the ability of unit members to surmount difficulties and offer practical solutions to problems.

“The airlift was a challenge and keeping track of everything wasn’t easy, but we did extremely well,” said Tudisco, a native of Derby, Connecticut.

“The temperature was ‘Gurkha hot’ and we needed to watch rest cycles, hydration, and any heat-related issues. No one can recall experiencing climate and conditions similar to Malaysia. It was a challenging work environment but we accomplished the mission. I am proud of our people,” he said.

Haldopoulos lauded the efforts of the 104th Airmen involved in Cope Taufan 2014.

“We have some very capable leaders and experts in their respective fields,” said Haldopoulos. “Our folks are well trained, experienced and pretty damn smart. Cope Taufan 2014 was a huge success due to the hard work and trademark professionalism of 10th Fighter Wing personnel.”

Unit leaders expect to deploy to similar exercises in the future.

Photo By Tech Sgt. Andrew L. Jackson