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By Staff Sgt. Alexandra M. Longfellow, 21st Space Wing
/ Published June 26, 2020
Airman 1st Class JR B. Henry works in the 821st Support Squadron postal office at Thule Air Base, Greenland. He went from being born and raised on the Maui island of Hawaii to working on a slightly colder island of Greenland. (Courtesy photo)
Houses are built right on the sand. Canoes and outriggers divide the yards. The sun rises between the islands as neighbors gather to watch the day begin with steaming cups of coffee in their hands. The ocean breeze flows through open screen doors as it finds its way down the narrow beach paths. Sand gently spills over the beach, mixing with the grass.
Airman 1st Class JR B. Henry, 821st Support Squadron postal apprentice, was born and raised in Maui, Hawaii, the 49th state admitted to the U.S. and the only island state in the Pacific Ocean. He is now stationed at Thule Air Base, Greenland, the U.S. Department of Defense’s northernmost installation located 750 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The climate between the two islands is vastly different, as is the have a significant difference in square mileage also. Greenland is 836,000 square miles with Thule covering only 254 of those. Hawaii has a total land area of 6,423 square miles with Maui taking up 728.
Island fever has never been farther from the truth than when Henry explains the similarities he observes in these two very different islands.
“Both islands are beautiful,” Henry said. “Everyone knows each other, cars are manual and both islands have some kind of shark in their waters.”
Those aren’t the only similarities Henry identifies between Maui and Thule.
“Patient is a common adjective often used to describe people of Hawaii,” Henry said. “We really like to take our time because we want to take in all the views, sounds and scents the island gives us. Another reason is the postal service.”
Mail may take between three to five weeks to deliver to Hawaii, Henry added.
“It is very similar to how mail is received here at Thule AB, where I work as a postal apprentice,” Henry said. “As mail is received on a weekly basis, it is crucial for me to ensure everyone gets their packages.”
Living in Greenland for a year without family and friends is new and can be challenging for those who are not used to being in an isolated location, Henry explained.
Thule AB is comprised of military members, civilians and contractors, with a small base exchange and dining facility.
“Every time we greet our satisfied customers in the post office, it makes us realize how a simple package can change someone’s day for the better,” Henry said.
Education, caring and helping others are very important values for his family, Henry added.
“My grandparents’ motto is, ‘learn a lot and have fun,’” Henry said. “They also taught me to respect everyone and ourselves no matter what.”
Henry explains the skills he has learned from the Air Force are very similar to the values of his Polynesian heritage.
“The Air Force core values are a part of my everyday life,” Henry said. “And these skills are what make me ‘Built To Last.’”
Henry describes himself as a mostly quiet person, but in May, during an Asian and Pacific Islander American Heritage Month event, he chose to leave his comfort zone and taught the Hula dance to others at Thule.
“I found my strength and confidence by doing the things I love to do and trying new things,” Henry said.
Henry wants to advise other Airmen to explore new, and sometimes intimidating, duty locations.
“There are a lot of things you can do on a one-year tour here in Greenland,” Henry said. “You will feel miserable if you stay in your dorm. Go on a hike, take an all-terrain vehicle ride, ice skate or sled. Everyone will be your family by the end of your short tour.”