Master of his own Dojo

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Courtney Richardson
  • 944th Fighter Wing Public Affairs

What do you do when you are stationed in Korea for four years? For one Airman, the answer was to learn a legendary new skill.

Master Sgt. James Pumarejo, 924th Maintenance Squadron munitions flight chief, owns and operates a full-time martial arts studio in Tucson, Arizona.

In the unit, Pumarejo is responsible for overseeing administrative actions and monitoring training for 40 Citizen Airmen along with providing strategic leadership for over 150 active-duty Airmen.

“The Munitions flight deals with everything from the bullets for the police at the gates to the bombs and missiles on our airplanes,” Pumarejo said. “We have eight different shops that are collectively responsible for the accountability, building, shipping, storing, inspecting, and delivery for 122 aircraft, five flying squadrons, and 38 custody accounts.”

Pumarejo has been an ammo troop for 16 years with eight of those spent on active duty. During that time, he was stationed abroad and chose to pick up a new skill, martial arts.

“The training was really old school and pretty brutal,” Pumarejo said. “I don’t teach that way, but I do keep it very traditional.”

After fulfilling his original service commitment Pumarejo chose to leave the military.

“I began teaching martial arts on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base and the classes filled very fast. That led to me opening an off-base studio in town,” he said. “That studio also grew quickly and gave me comfort to leave active-duty.”

Though his business was a success the economy wasn’t kind.

“When the economy changed directions and health insurance skyrocketed at the same time, I had to do some soul searching and make some big decisions.” Pumarejo said.

He talked with his wife and made the decision to join the U.S. Air Force Reserve.

“To be honest, there were a lot of things I really missed from being in the military like the strong camaraderie within the ammo community,” Pumarejo said. “When I talked to the recruiter and learned that a new unit was standing up, I became heavily invested in it which lead to an Air Reserve Technician position, I now hold.”

An ART is a full-time Department of Defense civil service employee who also fulfills the traditional reservist requirement of one weekend a month and two weeks a year.

Pumarejo also still works full-time at his martial arts studio.

“Balancing both is challenging and a key component has been the support I have received from my wife and son at home and at the business,” Pumarejo said.

His military leaders admire his ability to be flexible.

“I know he puts in a lot of hours at both jobs, sometimes I wonder how he manages his time and is able to be successful at both, said”Johnnie Gilbert , 924th Maintenance Squadron superintendent . “He is driven for success.”

Pumarejo explains that skills he learned along the way are the reason for his success in both careers.

“Discipline, respect, communication and organization, as well as managing people have carried me back and forth in both fields,” Pumarejo said. “Personally, caring for the people I lead, making sure their efforts are recognized, and working to get them the resources they need to succeed has been my recipe for success.”

Pumarejo’s supervisor admires that quality in him.

“He is a hard charging, tireless supervisor,” said Gilbert. “He is always the first to jump at any opportunity to recognize his troops up to and including Air Force Reserve Command level awards. He is a constant advocate for his people in all venues.”

Pumarejo attributes where he is in life today to the Air Force.

“Martial Arts and the military gave my life a different trajectory and life skills that have completely changed me,” he said.

He was able to train in martial arts while stationed in Korea on active duty. That time led him to teaching in the U.S., leaving the military and eventually opening his own studio. When times got hard, he was able to join the Reserve and split his time between the three things that he loves: his family, building bombs, and teaching martial arts.

Pumarejo wishes that more people would take advantage of the Air Force Reserve with the understanding that they can still manage serving their country as well as their personal goals.

“Being in the reserve is an excellent opportunity to start off adult life on the right foot,” Pumarejo said. “Developing a trade in the military and earning education and healthcare benefits allows young adults to start out life without debt and something to fall back on; it’s a win-win.”

Even though he is satisfied with his life, Pumarejo is still adding new goals to his life.

“I plan to continue to work tirelessly to provide better pay, facilities, and resourses for our Airmen as well as continue teaching Martial Arts and passing on the same skill I rely on,” he said. “I want there to be no doubt that I made things better for those around me and future generations.

Pumarejo’s drive and selflessness doesn’t go unnoticed.

“He is a great example of working to get what you want, not expecting it to be given to you,” Gilbert said.