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The PA Bunch: Unearthing a buried dream

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Noah Tancer
  • 910th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

A beast of bone towers over the crowd, its toothy maw agape in what was once a ferocious snarl. Through doors and archways remnants of various ancient cultures lay untouched beneath paned glass. As the visitors pay praise to the wired together giants and encased memories of what was, a child pulls loose from his father's grip and sprints around the room, roaring as the skeletons once had.

“Eight or ten years old is the time when dinosaurs, like the T-Rex, are the coolest things in the world,” remarked Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi, a photojournalist assigned to the 910th Airlift Wing’s Public Affairs Office.

Eager in heart and full of energy, the boy dodges through the crowd ignoring his older sister, Sarah, yelling for him. That is until his father beckons him into the museum’s next room.

“We went into the ancient Egyptian exhibit and it blew my mind,” recanted Grossi. “You go in and they had this old wooden funerary boat from probably 1800 BCE, perfectly preserved. That was the first time I recognized that even though people aren’t as old as dinosaurs, people are pretty old too. Even though we have these really big differences between then and now a days people are still people with the exact same desires, hopes and dreams. It's just how we achieve them are completely different.”

Young Grossi nearly ripped the sleeve from his father’s shirt, “Dad, Dad, I want to be an archaeologist.”

“Since then, I’ve always been digging in the dirt,” said Grossi. “Real talk, when I was growing up I would spend the summers at my grandma’s just digging in the dirt, finding rocks and breaking them open with a hammer my grandfather gave me. I’d bury army men or hot wheels cars before I’d leave just so I could dig them up again during my next visit.”

As modern times crawled forward so too did Grossi as he continued to excavate his dream. Currently, as a student at Penn State University, he is working toward getting a Masters of Art in Anthropology and a Bachelors of Arts in Classics and Ancient Mediterranean Studies with an emphasis in Archaeology. Grossi is also the NCOIC of Command Information at Youngstown Air Reserve Station.

“Even though I wanted to pursue the archaeology thing forever, I got swept up in the recession of 2008,” expressed Grossi. I come from a big family; two half-sisters, a whole sister, a step-sister and a step-brother, and I was the fourth kid to go to college out of all of them.”

Graduating at a time when FASFA and student loans weren’t even close to enough to cover his education, he turned to the Air Force as a small detour to his goal.

“I remember seeing my dad at the kitchen table stressing out, saying ‘I don’t know how we’re going to make college happen,’” recollected Grossi. “Honestly I saw a commercial for the Air Force come on and was like ‘Dude, don’t worry about it. I got this, I’ll join the Air Force, no problem.’ I thought about it for a week and went to see a recruiter.”

Swearing into a six-year active-duty contract on his birthday, his three original career choices were Survival Evasion Resistance and Escape specialist, Explosive Ordinance Disposal and Loadmaster. After graduating Basic Military Training with ease, he then fumbled his opportunity at EOD school.

“I came out of high school, a place I didn’t really have to work to succeed and was placed in a highly demanding environment where I needed to eat, sleep and breathe EOD to make it,” confessed Grossi. I needed that failure as a wake-up call to focus, work, and grow the hell up.”

When an individual fails a technical school in the Air Force they get reclassed to a critically manned career field of the Air Force’s choosing. Grossi was sent to Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, to become a missile and space system electronic maintenance specialist. Upon passing, he got assigned to the 90th missile maintenance squadron in the missile communications maintenance back-shop on Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Knowing something was missing he realized he had to move on, though he is still vocal of his past career field and love for the great outdoors of Wyoming and Colorado.

“At the five-year mark, I had this really hard moment where I didn’t know where I wanted to go because the Air Force was really good to me,” said Grossi. “I had lots of friends and was making good money, but I wasn’t doing what my heart wanted. I kind of forgot my whole goal was to serve my six, get my GI Bill, go to school and maybe come back if it was in the cards. When I made the decision to leave, I knew that I couldn’t separate from the Air Force entirely, so I decided to join the Air Force Reserve.”

Grossi excavated AFRC’s tomb, unearthed his buried dream and threw open the script of jobs to choose one that this time would parallel his goal.

“Photojournalist must have been written in bold because I bee-lined for it,” exclaimed Grossi. “I didn’t even think about it. The closer and closer I got to starting my first semester at Penn State I realized photojournalism was meshing perfectly. It’s teaching me how to do interviews and how to get closer to people without them being afraid to answer questions, and it puts a camera in my hand with a reason to take photos of people.”

Staff Sgt. Jeffrey Grossi has been assigned to the 910th PA team for four years. Those on the installation would recognize him as the really tall brunette always contorting himself in funny ways to get the best shot. He is due to graduate with his degree in May of 2021 and looking to apply for a job in cultural resource management.

“At eight years old I always said I wanted to be an archaeologist and now I’m almost thirty, I’ve been chasing it all this time, and it’s about to be reality.” says Grossi. “One day of exposure gave me a lifetime of passion for this type of thing and I want to at least try to give it back to the future generations with the same passion to preserve culture.”

Cracked rocks can still be seen scattered among his grandma’s flower bed; the guilty hammer hidden behind a bush fossilized by the passing of Grossi’s childhood. Forever scarred with ruts leftover from a wide-eyed grandson’s geological digs, the backyard was never flat again.