BOUNTIFUL -- Fire academy student, home loan processor, print shop worker, landscaper, security officer and volunteer high school football coach.
While the jobs above might sound like random suggestions from a high school guidance counselor, there aren't many people who can say they've done all of them.
But for Jace Wood, a 26-year-old father of two from Bountiful, that's exactly the case. And on May 15, he began a journey with a new title: Airman.
After attending Bountiful High School, Jace planned to become a firefighter. He started college classes, trained at a fire academy, and completed Emergency Medical Technician (EMT) certification. After a year of college, he married his high school sweetheart, Jessica.
His wide variety of job experience came while also attending fire academy training, but full-time firefighting job openings -- at least in the local area -- were extremely rare, he said. For one full-time position, there could be more than 500 applicants, including many experienced part-time firefighters.
With limited opportunities in the civilian sector, Jace's search led him to an online posting for firefighting jobs in the U.S. Army. He then visited a local Army recruiter, who informed him there was simply not a great need for new firefighters in the service at the time, as retention was fairly high. The recruiter recommended he try the Air Force.
In March 2011, Jace did just that, visiting the office of Tech. Sgt. Billie Hamby, 368th Recruiting Squadron. The initial response was familiar -- much like the Army, it was difficult at the time to procure a firefighting job in the Air Force.
But more importantly, Hamby saw something that led her to believe that Jace had the capability to serve his country in a facet that 99.9 percent of the country can't, said Tech. Sgt. Christopher Kisse, 368th RCS. After initially working with Jace, Hamby changed jobs within the squadron and referred the recruit to Kisse.
With Jace, Kisse said, "We saw dedication, competitiveness, perseverance, experience -- from EMT classes and physical training related to his firefighter training -- and his humble personality."
"Jace gets it done better than everybody else and doesn't seek recognition," Kisse said. "Our (Air Force) special operators are asked to do things most people can't do and we ask them to do it without a ton of visibility. He was a perfect fit for pararescue."
Jace said he didn't initially know much about the pararescue (PJ) career field. But after looking into it and talking to people, he grew more excited about the job.
"It's a very rewarding job to be able to go out and have that opportunity to help other people that are either injured, or hurt and needing to be found," he said. "I'm just happy to have the opportunity to even try to be pararescue."
Any male that qualifies for the Air Force can try out to be a PJ once they are in the Delayed Entrance Program (DEP), Kisse said, as long as they medically qualify during their Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS) physical.
"The only way PJ can be listed on their job sheets is if they pass the Physical Ability and Stamina Test (PAST) after they have sworn into the DEP," he continued. The test involves underwater swimming, a 500 meter swim, 1.5 mile run, pull-ups, setups, and pushups. Each category has a minimum time limit or minimum numbers of reps that must be attained.
"If the applicant passes the test, PJ will become his top job choice," Kisse said. "If he books the job, the test will be readministered 60 days before leaving for Basic Military Training (BMT) to ensure continued qualifications. After that, the journey just begins -- the applicant will go to BMT and start his two years of training to become an Air Force PJ."
Jace was a phenomenal applicant from the start, Kisse said. "His competitiveness and desire to persevere helped him not only qualify as a PJ, but it also pushed him to earn 'Ironman' status for superior performance on his PAST.
"Jace couldn't even qualify the first time I tested him," Kisse added. "That just shows how hard he works to achieve his goals in the Air Force."
The recruiter noted that although the washout rate for PJ training is above 90 percent, he is confident Jace will succeed as an Airman, PJ, and family man. "He doesn't allow anything to come between him and his goals. He has that combination of mental toughness and physical ability that only Special Operators have. I can't wait to see Jace graduate from his training and start changing lives."
That training officially began after Jace took the oath of enlistment May 15 at the Salt Lake City MEPS and "shipped out" the same day for Air Force BMT at Lackland AFB, Texas. Before leaving, he said there were primarily two things on his mind: mental preparation, and taking care of his family.
"I think I'll be OK physically," he said "but I'm getting ready for the mental challenges of basic training. I need to be ready mentally more than anything and also make sure my family's in order before I leave."
Jace, the oldest son among eight siblings, said his wife and children would be in good hands while he was away at BMT and PJ training -- they are staying with his family in Bountiful.
"That's probably what makes it somewhat easier to leave, because I know that everybody's going to help each other," he said. "I know that they're going to be taken care of, so then I can focus on what I need to do. That makes it a lot easier knowing I've got support from home coming to me and to everyone else as well."
Michelle Wood, Jace's mom, said he moved the family in at the beginning of March so everyone would have time to adapt before he left for BMT.
"I am just so thrilled we've had them here this long," she said. "His two little kids (five-year-old son Kellen, and one-year-old daughter Rya) are just a delight and it's been fun. Jace finished his job that he'd had previously and took all that time to just be with the kids."
"It has been the best thing to watch him be with those kids and how much they love him and what a good dad he is," Michelle continued. "I'm so glad we get them, and lucky for us, we have all these family members who will be able to love them and take care of them and talk to them about their dad. Everybody just loves Jace, so they'll know about their dad the whole time he's gone."
Michelle said, above all, she was extremely proud of her son. "As much as I'm hesitant to let him go, it's one of those things where I feel like he was meant for this," she said. "I wanted to stop him, I wanted to say, 'No, don't go, you can't do this,' but it was him, it's him to a 'T.' He has always been dedicated to doing the right thing and trying to be the best at whatever he does. And once he sets his mind to something, he will do it."
Jace's oldest sister, Bethany Tuia, agreed. At an early age, she said, if he couldn't do something at first, he would never just give up or try something else. "Things that he felt like weren't his best, he turns them into things that he's really good at," she said. "He hated running, but he ran a marathon a year ago, just because he wanted to do it."
However, his sister said, she was not quick to jump on the Air Force bandwagon when Jace first announced his intention to enlist.
"I knew that he wanted to do something fun," she said. "He likes to do things that are hard and push himself. But I thought he could do that here, I thought he could find something close.
"But once he started training and I saw how dedicated he was to it," Tuia said, "I was a little bit more excited for him. I think that PJ is a good fit for him, because he has a compassionate side and he wants to help people -- that's why he went into firefighting. But he's also tough as nails, so I think he'll do fantastic.
"People that know him, if you could hand-pick somebody to defend your country ... they would hand-pick Jace," she continued. "He would be their number one pick. So if there was a draft, like the baseball or football draft, for the armed forces, he would be a first round draft pick."
Nonetheless, Jace will definitely be missed as he completes BMT and begins PJ training -- especially by Jessica, Kellen and Rya.
"Overall, it's just totally so many emotions and I don't even know how to prepare for it," Jessica said. "Jace is an amazing, amazing father ... and a husband, and a brother and a son."
"He's a one-of-a-kind guy and I just think I'll miss his spirit here," his wife added. "I'm just going to miss him so much, but we'll be together again.
"It'll be hard without him," she continued, "but I have tons of people to help us and to help with my kids, and for him, to write letters. We're definitely not alone in this."
The letters for Jace should be arriving at Lackland soon, and in great volume. Before Jace left for BMT, Michelle asked Kisse, "Is it OK if people write him? Because every person here will write him.
"Just my husband and I, children and grandchildren, there are 21 of us," she said, adding that her mother and sister each live just blocks from the Wood residence, and on that side of the family she has six siblings, plus their spouses and children. "And my husband has 10 siblings and all of their kids."
Kisse replied, "Well, maybe assign them days (to write)."
"Everyone here will support him 100 percent," his mother concluded. "That's one of the things we just know will get him through -- there's so many people behind him that love him."
For more information about the PJ career field, visit: http://www.airforce.com/careers/detail/pararescue-males-only/
To view a video on PJ Indoctrination Course training, visit: http://youtu.be/j3q6XrDf64k