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NEWS | Dec. 2, 2023

Nebraska Airman: The Story behind the Uniform

By Airman 1st Class Jeremiah Johnson 155th Air Refueling Wing

LINCOLN, Neb. — On a crisp, mid spring morning in Lincoln, Nebraska, Jarell Roach, a senior at Southeast High School, was leaving the cafeteria following a typical forgettable lunch experience. Making his way through the random collective pockets of his peers, the whispers around him became noticeable. Speculation was growing about the whereabouts of Brandon, a classmate slated to graduate with the Class of 2000. As Roach began to piece together the questions, discomfort settled over him. Walking briskly past the school office, he could not avoid the school secretary directing him into the principles office.

U.S. Air Force Tech. Sgt. Jarell Roach, a Religious Affairs Airman with the 155th Air Refueling Wing, settled his 6’1” medium built frame in to the leather couch as he recalled the day’s event from 23 years prior. Brandon had approached Roach in the school lobby that afternoon, wanting Roach to join him for a simple drug exchange. With other plans already set, Roach opted to stay at the school to play basketball.

“He went and did the transaction without me,” Roach said. “He was set up, mugged and shot in the parking lot that night.”

The tragedy of Brandon’s story became the catalyst for Roach’s desire to join the military and fight to bring direction and hope to everyone he could.

A traditional guardsman, Roach has served with the Nebraska Air National Guard for over 22 years from Civil Engineering to the Chaplain’s Corps. Whether Roach was pouring concrete while deployed to Qatar or counseling a couple wrestling through their marriage, he has approached every opportunity as a means to create an atmosphere that fosters hope.

“I want my life marked by serving people no matter my position,” Roach said. “Where ever I serve, it's about building environments that provide peace for life and the mission.”

This passion recently prompted Roach to establish The Well, a quiet upper room adjacent to the Chaplain’s office designed to provide a haven of tranquility for those that enter.

“We needed a living-room-like setting that addressed the whole airman,” Roach said. “A sacred place for individuals and groups to do soul care, ultimately to be ready, prepared and resilient for the mission.”

Brandon’s story sparked a personal mission that reached even beyond the uniform.

“I swore that I was going to fight for kids like him,” he said. “He was one of those just battling and struggling with the abandonment he experienced throughout his life.”

Roach actively engages his community as a local missionary with Omaha Youth for Christ and through his personal message of Hopehood, a brand he started and shares across his social media platforms, through his motivational talks and comedy acts with everyone he comes in contact with.

“Hope is about getting better by doing less of what they regret and more of what brings them success,” Roach said. “Success is becoming the person you say you will be.”

From a school gymnasiums, to comedy clubs and even prisons, Roach has reached thousands of people through high level motivational talks, entertainment and mentorship. Roach describes his approach as a “collaborative effort” to leave a legacy of impact upon the next generation, the next Brandon.

“You don’t need to go overseas to fight a war,” Roach said. “People are battling right here in their homes.”

The tragedy of Brandon’s story became the inspiration Roach’s military service and a dedication to a lifestyle of hope.

“I came to realize a phrase that drives everything for me,” Roach said. “What you live, you leave.”