SCHRIEVER AIR FORCE BASE, Colo.- --
Ohana. In Hawaiian, it means family. It is one of the most cherished words in the language and for Charlene Kaawaloa, though not a Hawaiian native, it has become an integral part of her dialect.
Her Ohana has evolved after five decades as a contractor at Kaena Point Satellite Tracking Station, one of Schriever’s geographically separated units, where she forged an extended family at her workplace among her fellow coworkers both military and civilian-earning her the nickname “Aunty Char.”
Kaawaloa has no qualms with her longstanding work title.
“I guess I’m kind of a matriarch,” laughed Kaawaloa. “It’s a sign of respect to be called that, it shows what a great group of people I work with. Everyone knows each other by a first name basis, I know their families and they know mine, and they’re all a second family to me.”
Before the nickname, the concept of Ohana and the rest of Hawaiian culture which has become part of her life, Kaawaloa’s story started out in a place far from tropical shorelines and palm trees- the small college town of Menomonie, Wisconsin.
“It was a typical small town,” said Kaawaloa. “We’d (my family) go to high school football and basketball games, take bike rides and go fishing. I worked as the editor of my high school newspaper. We had fun.”
It was in the Badger state, working at the University of Wisconsin where she met her husband, a Hawaiian serving in the Air Force. Together they darted around the world on orders before he retired from active duty, soon after taking a job returning to his home state working as a civilian electrician at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
She was just adjusting to Hawaiian life when she took a job at a brand new remote facility on the O’ahu island at Kaena Point working for Lockheed Missiles and Space.
“I thought it was beautiful, isolated,” said Kaawaloa. “You had to be resilient to work there. There was no shopping outlets to check out at lunch time. Fortunately, I was close to my sons, 15 miles away, in case of an emergency and it was close to home and where my husband was. A lot of people were envious of my new job location.”
Kaawaloa’s tenure at Kaena Point started on Dec. 7, 1966 and included a variety of contracting jobs under a multitude of companies, growing her resume as the base, and technology, grew with her.
“We used typewriters back then. Now it’s all computers,” said Kaawaloa. “There are more facilities now and less people. The equipment’s all upgraded.”
While change occurred all around her, Kaawaloa strived to make changes in the local community and herself. Adopting Hawaiian culture as her own and reaching out to take part in Little League baseball, local football and church events as well as volunteer for the local library, among other roles, Kaawaloa translated the same positive impact she has in her workplace into the community. She garnered valuable experience and stories through the years, withstanding two hurricanes, and a chaotic Thanksgiving experience, when the turkey travelled from Waianae, O’ahu, to Pearl City and then back to Waianae again, well past due.
“It was the worst and most travelled turkey I ever had,” laughed Kaawaloa.
Still she remained a Kaena constant, an experienced and dependable worker committed to her job, and upholding the community.
“She comes in with a smile every day,” said Richard Dorris, a fellow coworker. “She emits positive energy.”
Decades later on Dec. 7, 2016, as she celebrated her 50th anniversary at Kaena Point, Aunty Char still greeted everyone with a smile.
“She’s the glue that holds the place together. Everyone knows her and stops by to say hello. She does a lot for the site, she puts together luncheons, going-away events, and more,” said Dorris.
During the festivities, Kaawaloa was awarded a congratulatory letter written by Col. DeAnna Burt, 50th Space Wing commander, acknowledging her years of service and dedication. The letter was presented to her by Lt. Col. Jason Burch, 50th Network Operations Group deputy commander.
Now looking at retirement next year, Kaawaloa’s departure will be bittersweet for her and her Ohana.
“There will definitely be some sadness involved, however, I’ll be sure to stay in contact after retirement,” said Kaawaloa.
Kaawaloa’s brief moments of sadness are a drop in the bucket in the profound well of memories and experience she culminated at Kaena Point.
Looking back, Kaawaloa agrees even if her younger self knew her first day working at Kaena Point she would be there for another 18,262, she wouldn’t change a thing.
“We are the number one GSU in the network. I will always be grateful for the opportunity I had here,” said Kaawaloa. “Its really been a fun, enjoyable and supportive experience.”
While she prepares to take more time to spend with her own family, Kaawaloa won’t forget her other Ohana.
“I’ve made lifelong friends, and am part of a second family. I’ve learned so much,” said Kaawaloa. “If I had to describe my time here in one word, it would be exhilarating.”