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It’s a small world … Airmen reunite at Tinker

Col. Stella Smith and Tech. Sgt. Malika Likavec graduated from City Honors High School, Buffalo, N.Y. and talk about their respective high school days as they thumb through Colonel Smith’s yearbook recently.  Colonel Smith, squadron commander, and Sergeant Likavec , a maintenance scheduler, have served the Air Force around the world on a journey that brought both to Tinker where a squadron picnic discussion about Sergeant Likavec’s Buffalo Bills sweatshirt revealed their shared hometown beginnings. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

Col. Stella Smith and Tech. Sgt. Malika Likavec graduated from City Honors High School, Buffalo, N.Y. and talk about their respective high school days as they thumb through Colonel Smith’s yearbook recently. Colonel Smith, squadron commander, and Sergeant Likavec , a maintenance scheduler, have served the Air Force around the world on a journey that brought both to Tinker where a squadron picnic discussion about Sergeant Likavec’s Buffalo Bills sweatshirt revealed their shared hometown beginnings. (Air Force photo by Margo Wright)

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Despite being geographically separated about 1,200 miles from home, two Airmen in charge of maintaining the E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System aircraft at Tinker Air Force Base have been made to feel right at home after landing in the same unit here after graduating from high school in Buffalo, N.Y. some 15 years apart.

Affectionately referring to themselves as the "Buffalo Girls," Col. Stella Smith and Tech. Sgt. Malika Likavec both graduated from City Honors High School, a public school in Buffalo that only graduates about 90 students per year and one that is frequently rated in the Top 10 among public schools in America.

Colonel Smith, commander of the 552nd Maintenance Group, graduated from City Honors High School in 1985, while Sergeant Likavec, a maintenance production journeyman and resource advisor for the 552nd Maintenance Operations Squadron, which falls under Colonel Smith's command, graduated from the same school in 2000.

Today, the two share stories of their Air Force careers and memories of back home while stationed in the same geographical unit here at Tinker.

"Although I sometimes meet Air Force members who claim Buffalo as their hometown, they usually end up being from one of the surrounding suburbs," Colonel Smith lamented. "She (Sergeant Likavec) is the first actual Buffalo Girl I have met."

Colonel Smith went on to say Sergeant Likavec is definitely the only City Honors' "Honors Graduate" she has ever "bumped into!"

After joining the Air Force shortly after graduating from high school, Sergeant Likavec said she "highly doubted" she would ever encounter anyone from her hometown and "certainly no one from the same high school."

After all, she had joined the Air Force at age 17 with the intentions of getting an education, traveling the world and meeting new people.

Throughout the years, Sergeant Likavec said she has encountered several people from the state of New York and a couple individuals from Buffalo.

However, it was at a squadron picnic recently, where Sergeant Likavec was proudly sporting a Buffalo Bills t-shirt -- despite the fact the Bills were 0-6 at the time -- she "bumped into" Colonel Smith.

"This revelation came as a welcome surprise," Sergeant Likavec said. "As I walk through the halls of Bldg. 230, attend the commanders daily production meetings, listen to her give guidance at commanders calls and awards ceremonies, I imagine how we have both walked the halls of City Honors High School, sat in the very same classrooms and played sports in the same gym.

"(In my job) I have the opportunity to experience and appreciate the leadership of Colonel Smith first-hand."

Sergeant Likavec went on to say the core values at City Honors High School of "Honesty," "Kindness," "Respect" and "Responsibility" and the core values of the Air Force of "Integrity First," "Service Before Self" and "Excellence in All We Do" are evident in Colonel Smith's leadership style.

"I appreciate having a leader like her guiding me," she added. "Despite being 1,200 miles from my home of record, I still feel at home here under her command.

Colonel Smith said the feeling is mutual.

"Sergeant Likavec is an outstanding NCO and a phenomenal supervisor," she said. "I am super proud to work with her and I love the fact that we both represent the same high school and hometown.

"It is also fun to have another Bills fan around during football season! Not many folks cheer for our team if they aren't from there."

Colonel Smith said she was "shocked" to find out the two attended the same small high school and that she never dreamed she'd find another classmate halfway across the country in Oklahoma.

But, she said it's only fitting since Buffalo is known to locals as the "City of Brotherly Neighbors."

"Oklahoma is the most welcoming place I have lived since I left home," Colonel Smith said. "In Buffalo, we deal with Mother Nature in the form of extremely harsh winters and life-threatening blizzards. People really pull together and rely on each other, just like Oklahomans do during storm season here."

And, both AWACS maintainers admitted, "It's a small world indeed."