LAJES FIELD, AZORES, Portugal — Ever since it was created during the early years of America’s entry into World War II, the airfield on this small island in the northeast Atlantic has been an important crossroads for ships and planes carrying people and cargo to strategic locations throughout Europe, Africa and the Middle East.
Today, the son of a Hinesville man is one of only about 600 U.S. Air Force men and women who operate a sort of “pit stop” for military and commercial aircraft. The small air base is a refueling station where aircrews can get fuel, rest, maintenance and supplies before heading to their final destinations.
Martin Torres, son of Vennis Henderson of Hinesville, is an information and referral specialist with the 65th Force Support Squadron.
“My role here is customer care,” said Torres, a 1974 graduate of 71st Senior High School in Fayetteville, N.C. “I conduct and perform customer contact and referral duties at the Airmen and Family Readiness Center. I help maintain materials for the center, assist all customers with using the facility. My job influences the mission because it helps the service members and informs them on what’s going on to help themselves and their families.”
Torres and his fellow airmen are part of the 65th Air Base Wing tasked with playing an important role in the fight against terrorism by assisting with the movement of war fighters, planes and global communications for commanders. This small base with its huge runway is on the small island of Terceira in the Azores chain of islands. With rolling hills and green pastures, it’s an idyllic setting for such an important mission.
“This base is important because it provides vital support for Department of Defense, allied nations and other authorized aircraft transiting this installation,” said Torres, who is a 2008 graduate of Delaware State University.
“Lajes also enables the expeditionary movement of wartime aircraft and global communications to combatant commanders; support joint, coalition and NATO operations and promotes bi-lateral relations with our host nations,” he said.
Although it is 900 miles from the mainland, the Azores is a part of Portugal and contains many of the customs and traditions of that country. From the running of the bulls in the nearby city of Praia da Vitoria just outside of Lajes to the outdoor markets and European-styled houses and farms, the small island gives Americans stationed here a slice of life that is thoroughly European.
“The weather is simply breathtaking, now granted it can be raining 10 minutes, but 10 minutes later it will stop and the sun will pop back out,” Torres said. “The people are very friendly and helpful and so genuine. The landscape is out of the norm because if you didn’t know any better, you would think you went back into time with the donkey- and horse-ran wagons on the streets. Not to mention that you can have cows living as your neighbors. Overall, I’m loving it.”
Assignments to Lajes range from 15 months to 24 months, depending on whether an airman is single or married. As with any overseas location, the experience they take away from here greatly varies from person to person.
“I will remember the friendships that I have made while being here, and the times we spend together,” Torres said. “My daughter’s first time in kindergarten and first-grade experiences. As a family, all the fun things we did together and the places and events we took part in, now that’s what I — and hopefully my kids — will remember.”
Just as their predecessors have done for the past 67 years, Torres and his fellow airmen will continue to be a vital stop between the United States and important military missions overseas.