Twenty-seven thousand feet above the rugged mountain terrain of Afghanistan, the U.S. Air Force C-130 transport plane cruises "lights out" - in near total darkness - to avoid possible enemy detection. Onboard, Senior Airman Jahaz Shine sits quietly, rubbing the dog tags around her neck - accompanied by a miniature photo of her and her fiancé. Against the constant drone of four giant propellers pulling them through the night, she thinks about why she is here, the danger, and then is comforted in her faith. A moment later, guided only by a small flashlight and her training, the aeromedical evacuation technician carefully makes rounds, checking on her charges, a potpourri of war's damage ... American soldiers wounded in action, prisoners of war and, in some cases, local children maimed by landmines.
"It was difficult to see children injured, but we obviously wanted to do whatever we could to bring them comfort," Shine says from the safe confines of Fontbonne's campus some two years later. Seemingly uncomfortable recalling aspects of her deployment, the 28-year-old biology major reflected on those air-evac missions. "I can only say that being that close to the ‘enemy,' and feeling that he would kill you just because of where you are from and not for who you are is a bad feeling," she says. "Some of these prisoners were just young kids, misled and confused. It was difficult."
Shine is now in the Air Force Reserves at Scott Air Force Base, across the river in Illinois, but she has her sights set on more peaceful endeavors these days. She transferred to Fontbonne because she wanted a "challenging school with excellent credentials." After completing her degree, she plans to pursue the graduate program in "naturopathic medicine" at Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash., one of the "world's leading academic centers for advancing knowledge in the natural health sciences," according to the school's Web site. Shine says she strongly embraces the practice of preventing and treating disease and illness through a combination of mental, physical and spiritual approaches to assist the natural healing processes of the body. And she's already getting some experience in the medical field in her full-time job in the emergency room registration department at St. Mary's Hospital, not far from Fontbonne's campus.
"I truly believe we can combat or treat so much of what afflicts us today with more natural remedies," Shine says. "I believe this career path really reflects my core beliefs and principles."
Indeed, Shine is not one to shy away from her feelings or from speaking out for what she believes in. Selected as the student speaker at Fontbonne's Martin Luther King Jr. observance in January, this Memphis native reflected on what it was like growing up in the city where the civil rights leader was slain.
"We would ride past the Lorraine Motel where his precious blood marked the pavement and his soul was released to the heavens," she said during her presentation. "I would look at the balcony and wonder, what could make man so hateful?"
She acknowledges that her own experiences with racism have forged within her an ardent opposition to any kind of injustice, whether it involves race, gender, or any kind of "classification."
"I speak my mind," she says firmly but with a smile. "I confront issues ... and I judge myself. I try to change negative qualities or attitudes in myself as well as others. I think if we, as a society, were to attack racism like a ‘cancer' we'd be better off."
When not studying or working, this motivated, ambitious, intense young woman has a playful side too. She's a big fan of reggae music, loves to eat healthy foods, likes (not "loves" she says) working out and could spend an afternoon just lying out on a blanket in a park soaking up the sun. And, "I love spoken word poetry - it's such a great form of self expression!" she says.
And that is the mélange that is Jahaz Shine ... veteran of the war on terror, civil rights advocate, poet, believer in holistic medicine ... and Fontbonne student.