Photo Information

Bonifacio Vergara works on replacing a tail section on a CH-53D Sea Stallion Aug. 25, at Al Asad, Iraq. Vergara, a sheet metal mechanic for Naval Air Depot detachment at Al Asad, is 76-years-old and has been working on repairing aircraft for more than 50 years.

Photo by Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran

76-year-old man continues life of dedication in Iraq

28 Aug 2006 | Lance Cpl. Brian J. Holloran

To some people dedication is just a word in the dictionary. To others the word becomes a way of life.

For Bonifacio Vergara, a 76-year-old contractor working for the Naval Air Depot detachment in Al Asad, dedication means commitment and sacrifice.

Vergara, or "Pops" as his co-workers call him, has been working on aircraft for more than 50 years.

"'Pops' joined the U.S. Navy in the Philippines at Sangli Point on September 23, 1955," said Navy Cmdr. Donald F. Bailey, officer-in-charge, NADEP detachment in Al Asad and Al Taqaddum. "He was enlisted for 24 years, retiring as a petty officer first class on August 14, 1979."

"I joined the Navy so that I could have a better life," said Vergara, a resident of San Diego. "The Navy offered good work and good pay."

Vergara was an aviation structural hydraulic mechanic while in the Navy and received the chance to travel and see the world during his many years of service.

"I was deployed for six months every other year," said Vergara. "It gave me the chance to see things I never would have seen."

After a long career in the Navy, "Pops" decided that retirement didn't mean he couldn't work.

"As soon as I was out of the Navy, I applied for a job with NADEP," said the gray-haired workaholic. "I was too young to stop working."

Bailey explained, NADEP prefers hiring naval retirees because they have the experience needed for the job, along with the discipline that comes with being in the military for 20 years.

The NADEP crew is responsible for depot level repairs, according to Bailey, a native of Henderson, Colo.

"Depot-level repairs are the equivalent of major overhauls," said Bailey. "'Pops' handles the sheet metal repairs on all Marine Corps rotary and fixed-wing aircraft."

"Pops" has performed maintenance for many of the squadrons on Al Asad Air Base and all of them speak highly of his first-class expertise and his unwavering work ethic.

"'Pops' came up to our squadron to do some work on the tail of one of our (AV-8B Harriers)," said 1st Lt. Anemia Godwin Eddie Utuk, assistant aircraft maintenance officer for Marine Attack Squadron 513, Marine Aircraft Group 16 (Reinforced), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing. "When he showed up for his initial inspection, it was clear that he had a lot of experience in his field. He was able to give us a timeline for the repairs of the aircraft and that was critical to our mission planning."

"Pops" arrived in Iraq on April 17 and had orders for 90 days. Once his orders were up, he volunteered for another 90, said Bailey.

"I have been trying to get deployed to Iraq for a long time now," said Vergara. "I wanted to get out and do something different."

"Pops", like everyone working in Iraq, works under sweltering heat, blinding dust storms and adverse working conditions, and he does it without complaining.

"'Pops' is an amazing worker," said Bailey. "I have to talk him into taking a break. Once he starts a job, he is driven from inside to get it finished in a quality manner. His work is outstanding and he shows pride and professionalism throughout."

Being at an age triple that of your average service member, Vergara still keeps to a grueling schedule that is just as, if not more, demanding than those that work with him.

"He works 12 hours a day, seven days a week, and he still gets up at 3 to go running," said Bailey. "It's incredible. He makes us younger guys look bad."

"I work hard because if I get lazy, my body will get lazy," said Vergara. "I want to keep my energy."

With a great work ethic and an incredible willingness to help, it is no wonder that Vergara's work is in high demand.

"I would keep him for my whole one-year tour if I could," said Bailey. "It is rare to find an individual with the humble qualities that 'Pops' displays day in and day out. I am extremely proud to be able to identify him as a member of my team."