As part of my regular fitness routine, I swim laps at the YMCA to strengthen my hands, arms and legs. This reduces the tremors in my hands so that I am able to write legibly and operate the computer and mouse with more dexterity. It has also allowed me to play the keyboard (a little) better. Gliding through the water as often as I do gives me the belief, misguided as it seems, that I’m a pretty fast swimmer. My thought process runs something like this: “I’ve been doing this for umpteen years. … I must be good!”

So, it was quite a shock (and reality check) when I silently challenged this short “young buck” next to me. He didn’t look much older than a mere lad. However, the results of this secret competition were definitely not ego-enhancing for me. Not only did he cut through the water fast and effortlessly, he nearly gave me a whiplash from the waves that bounced off of him. This mini-Atlas figure continued to swim long after I was on the sidelines gasping for air, resting my winded, weary body.

Then, something remarkable took place: This swimming phenom, who introduced himself as “Nick,” started complimenting me on the progress that I was making! And, upon my asking, he even provided me tips on how to improve my speed. A true “Officer and Gentleman”.

This mini-powerhouse, who is known as Major Nickolas Aionaaka at Marine Corps Logistics Command-Albany, was born on the island of Hawaii. He was raised on a small macadamia nut farm by his mother, grandmother and grandfather — a WWII 100th/442nd Army veteran. Here, he learned discipline, respect and the value of hard work. The attributes gained on the farm helped him to excel in high school academically (3.78 GPA) and in sports, fifth in the state of Hawaii for wrestling.

Following graduation, Aionaaka was offered a tuition scholarship to the Medical Program at the University of Hawaii — Manoa, Oahu. However, the high cost of living of Oahu for a big island farm boy like Nick were both overwhelming and financially unstable, so he enlisted in the Marines. The Marine Corps provided the platform for financial security, educational opportunity and exploration. Upon completion of recruit training and Marine Combat Training, Aionaaka attended Aircraft Mechanic School to become an Airframes and Hydraulics Technician. His first unit was with UH-1N Huey and AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters at Marine Light Attack Helicopter Squadron 267, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

In 2005, Aionaaka was selected for the Meritorious Commissioning Program to become a Marine Corps officer. Upon completion of Officer Candidate School, he attended Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s Daytona Beach campus, where he obtained a BS in Professional Aeronautics with a minor in Logistics and Safety. Among the training he received as an officer were Aviation Supply School, Human Resource Management (supervisor course), and Joint Logistics and Humanitarian Assistance Operations Course. He also attended Naval Postgraduate School in 2017, where he obtained an MBA in Material Logistics (supply chain management).

Throughout his career, Aionaaka has garnered a number of awards. Among them are Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego, Boot Camp Platoon Honorman; Marine/Noncommissioned Officer of the Quarter selections; Meritorious promotions; Sergeants Course “Gung-Ho” award; Navy/Marine Corps Commendation Medal; Navy/Marine Corps Achievement Medal (Gold Star in lieu of 5th award); Good Conduct Medal (second award), and Military Outstanding Volunteer Service Medal.

Aionaaka currently serves as a Logistics Metrics Analyst, Supply Officer and Data/Business Process Analyst in G4-Logistics. This dynamo of a man, who is also a first-degree black belt in Marine Corps martial arts, serves as an Troop Leader, assistant Scoutmaster, Cub den leader and Woodbadge Certified Leader in Scouts of America. He gives all his success to his loving God, Jesus, and his loving wife, children and family. So, Nick, thank you and all your service members for keeping this nation strong and poised.

Tom Connelly works for the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency as a communications specialist. He has been employed by the state for more than 25 years. Connelly has written more than 55 articles, including 40-plus that have appeared in The Albany Herald.

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