ROBERT AINI – SRO, PARSON HILLS, BAYYARI, TURNBOW, HARP, TYSON, LEE, JONES ELEMENTARY
Do you need your helicopter fixed? Robert Aini is your man. Long before he became a member of the Springdale Police Department and a student resource officer, Aini was repairing helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I was living in California and didn’t like it,” says Aini. “It was too crowded. Traffic was horrible. So, I joined the military and served for 10 years. I was a helicopter crew chief. I didn’t fly the helicopters. I was the mechanic. So, I was in the air nearly every day when I served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“We had a wide variety of missions, including taxiing solders. We would receive care packages from the United States and give hem to kids. When a kid in Iraq or Afghanistan was given a soccer ball, his eyes would get wide. Among the things they valued most were pencils. They loved pencils because it gave them the ability to draw and write.”
Passing out care packages and interacting with kids gave Aini a preview of what he would someday be doing.
“Kids are innocent,” Aini says. “Seeing them in Iraq and Afghanistan made me know I wanted to help kids. They are survivors. They don’t have anything and appreciate everything they receive. I didn’t grow up like that. My mom bought everything for me.”
“Remember those Michael Jackson red jackets he wore when he sang ‘Thriller?’” asks Aini. “My mom bought one for me. I was so popular. It was really too hot to wear a jacket where we lived but I wore it anyway.”
Wearing a Michael Jackson jacket didn’t mean Aini grew up in wealth but he didn’t experience extreme poverty, either. He is a native of Chuuk, one of the Federated States of Micronesia. While different languages are spoken in the various Federated States of Micronesia, Aini learned English early in his academic career.
“I had a sixth grade teacher who was an international volunteer from New England,” Aini recalls. “She told us that English is the international language. I’ve always believed that. I am still learning English, though, even though I’ve spoken it for over 30 years. I like to learn the fancy words.”
His English was fine enough to allow him to go to Hawaii for college. He didn’t get far, though, and ended up working two jobs to afford living in Hawaii. He did that for seven years before moving to California.
“That’s when I decided to join the military,” Aini says. “Going to Iraq and Afghanistan was eye opening. They are two totally different cultures. People survive with nothing. Sometimes I wondered where they got food and water. I couldn’t survive there. I’ve seen the world and I don’t take anything for granted.”
He doesn’t take his job for granted. Serving as SRO for Parson Hills, Bayyari, Turnbow, Harp, Tyson, Lee and Jones Elementary, Aini did not move to Sprindale expecting to become a police officer.
“After I got out of the military I spent a year in Washington, then moved to San Diego,” Aini explains. “I had friends in Springdale and I visited there in 2005. Compared to California, there was no traffic. Springdale only had one Walmart then and I thought it was a very attractive, smaller town.
“When I came back in 2013, Springdale had grown. It still wasn’t like California, though. When I came back Gomez (Zackious, SRO at Lakeside Junior High) saw me and said I would be a good police officer. I was tired of wearing a uniform and wasn’t ready to wear another one.”
Zackious was persistent and persuaded Aini to take the test.
“I took the test and here I am,” says Aini. “This is a very rewarding job. It is totally different from the army. I love it. I started on patrol and liked helping kids so I became an SRO.
“When it comes to helping kids, though, I am only a backup. Give all the credit to the teachers, principals and staff members. They work very, very hard to educate and take care of the kids.”
In his sixth year on the police force and third as an SRO, Aini admits this year has been different because of the national pandemic.
“I hate wearing masks,” he says. “You can’t tell if people are smiling or not. In my first two years as SRO, I loved seeing the kids smile when I would see them. Now we have strict guidelines to make sure we keep everyone safe. It’s crazy, weird. The only time I don’t wear a mask is when I am at home.”
At home he has a daughter who is at Central Junior High. His son graduated from Har-Ber High School this past spring and just joined the Navy. Aini says, “He will grow into a young man in the Navy. He will be a different man in three months.”
When he is not enjoying family time with his wife and daughter, Aini likes playing softball and bicycling.
“Softball is very popular among the Marshallese,” Aini says. “I play with many of them when it is warm. I like to play fast pitch but it makes you mad when you get hit by a pitch. I also like biking. I really enjoyed my time on bike patrol.”
Aini is glad Zackious talked him into taking the test to become a police officer and values his career. He and all the district SROs are among the reasons Springdale Public Schools are #THEChoice.