Never stop trying

By Master Sgt. Sonya L. Couture
438th Air Expeditionary Wing

As Sept. 11 approaches, I find myself once again in Afghanistan – this time for a year. This mission is different from the last. Instead of supporting missions to “seek out and destroy the enemy,” I am here to train members of the Afghan Air Force on how to do my job, Aircrew Flight Equipment. I’m also teaching them how to manage their people and resources as well as how to solve problems on their own. I assure you, it’s not an easy task with their lack of classroom education and cultural differences.

Thinking back on where I was and what I was doing on 9/11, I’m reminded of the pain and anger I felt at such a senseless act. On 9/11, I saw every one of “them” as the enemy. My anger was boiling over and I wanted all of them eradicated from this earth. I’m sure many others felt the same way as they watched the horrors unfold on the news, replayed repeatedly. What came to mind later as I calmed down were the millions of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with these acts of terrorism. I slowly began to realize that 9/11 was not the work of all the people who are Muslim or from the Middle East, but the work of small extremist groups. I reserved my anger for the ones responsible, the factions and groups of extremist Muslims who hate Americans and wish to see us die. I consciously decided it was not right to judge them all on the actions of a few.

However, on April 27 this year, nine of my friends and coworkers were killed by one of the Afghans we were training. It was by far the single, most horrifying experience of my life. My reaction of rage and disbelief was very similar to my feelings on 9/11. I felt an overwhelming anger that sickened me. Why did my friends have to die so senselessly? I felt myself looking at every Afghan I saw with pure hatred.

After the shootings, I struggled to regain my enthusiasm for what I was doing here. How could I help these people, not knowing if their secret agenda was to kill me? On my first day back to work it was clear that “my” Afghans had no such intentions toward me. The sadness and pain in their eyes told me what I needed to know. They feared I would hate them for their fellow comrade’s actions and decide to no longer help them. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t hold it against them. These men didn’t kill my friends. They were trying their best to do what any of us would want; to make a better life for themselves, their family and their country.

Weeks later during a conversation with my Afghan interpreter, I asked him if he thought his country would ever be able to get rid of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the war lords who ravage the country. Were we here for nothing, wasting our time and money? He asked me if the U.S. has ever been able to get rid of all its “bad guys”; those who rob, rape, and murder?

“No”, I said. “Of course not, but we will always keep trying to make it better.”
“That’s all we are trying to do as well,” he responded. His simple statement stuck with me. They should have the chance to try and make a better world for themselves, for the good men who are weak to become strong and capable of fighting the evil men.

I see the innocent children smiling and waving excitedly giving us the “thumbs up” as we convoy down the dirty streets of Kabul. We are hope to them and their future. I visit injured children in the hospital and absorb some of their positive, radiant energy they each have despite their injuries and constant struggles. These kids deserve to have a better life. The men I am training are trying to make this a better place for their families, the same thing we strive for every day and I am proud to be a part of it.

On Sept. 11, on an Afghan Air Force base, we will be reading the names of the 3,000-plus victims who died on that day and raising our flag in their honor. Who would have ever thought we would get to this point? As we pay tribute and honor to those who lost their lives on that day, let us not forget how blessed we are to be citizens of the United States. It is by the grace of God that we did not find ourselves born into a country such as Afghanistan where life is harder and more uncertain than we could ever imagine.

In February next year, I will be on my way home to my family. I will leave this country behind and wish them well in their endeavors to become a better, stronger country. Nothing can change what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, nor bring back the loved ones, family and friends who were lost then or during the war that followed. All we can do is continue to honor their memory, to never forget and to keep fighting for something more; a better world so this never happens again. We will never be able to wipe out all of the “bad guys” in this world….but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying.

121,000 pounds in 15 seconds

By Staff Sgt. David Salanitri
U.S. Air Forces Central

Their flight suits are soaked through with sweat, it’s 110 degrees outside and the smell in the U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III resembles a high school locker room — we’re 30 minutes into our 15-hour mission.

Air DropLike the majority of people who like to browse news on the war, I’ve seen many pictures and videos of supplies and cargo being dropped from an aircraft … the pallets of supplies float gracefully down and that is that. Never do I see the blood, sweat and tears that go behind getting those pallets to where they need to be.

The crew is alerted around 9 a.m. and arrives to the squadron 40 minutes later. They assemble for a highly detailed pre-mission brief that prepares the Airmen for what they will face during their mission.

Once processed through customs, it’s time to arm up and head to the plane. Today is my first combat airdrop mission; our location is somewhere in Southwest Asia. The air is heavy with humidity — you can actually feel the air on your skin. At this point, all we’ve done is place our bags on the C-17 and already our flight suits are drenched in sweat. Drops of perspiration are falling off the loadmaster’s face. We have 13 hours left in the day.

Even in the cargo bay of the massive aircraft, room is at a premium. More than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel loaded on 40 pallets fill the aircraft from tail to nose, leaving just enough space for us to walk along the sides. The loadmaster’s voice comes over the speakers “ready for takeoff.” Within seconds our warehouse with wings is in the air.

Estimated time over target is two hours. The lights dim and things begin to cool off as we ascend.

As we get closer to the drop zone, Staff Sgt. Russ Johnson, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, signals a 30-minute warning. My two partners are no strangers to documenting airdrops, but for me, this is a new experience.

I strap myself into a seat in the back by the door. The aircraft dives, dips and dodges its way through the mountains of Afghanistan — I eye up the closest pile of puke-bags in case things go south for this guy.

The door opens at about 1,000 feet above the ground. I knew Afghanistan was mountainous, but I couldn’t have been prepared for what I saw. The mountains are high and the aircraft is low. It feels as though I could reach out and touch the mountaintops — I wasn’t too far off.

It’s game time. Red light … yellow light … green light. Within two seconds, 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel violently races past me and out the aircraft, floating down to coalition troops on the ground. Our second pass drops another load.

Gearing up for our third drop, a stop is made at Bagram Airfield (BAF) to refuel and load up another 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat. As we’re parked on the ramp, the doors open and the tail goes down. For anyone who hasn’t been to BAF, it’s a sight to see. A bowl of mountains surround the airfield. On the ramp of the aircraft lay two loadmasters enjoying the sunset on what appears to be a peaceful evening.

With one pallet left to load on the plane, sirens go off. The peaceful moment disappears as the crew loading the plane runs for cover because, make no mistake about it, we are at war.

Air DropThe news team and aircrew shelter in place on the aircraft. The sirens disappear and a new noise is heard. A pair of fighter jets and helicopters take to the sky. We all agree, someone is about to have a bad day.

More than an hour passes before the last pallet is finally loaded.

The sun is down and the sky is dark. Red lights illuminate the cargo area of the plane.

In preparation for the last drop of the mission, the lights dim. Looking through the viewfinder of my camera is a daunting task as visibility is close to nonexistent. We’re effectively an invisible flying Wal-Mart under the night sky. In a matter of 10 seconds, the doors open, the MREs blast out the door and we are on our way home.

Fifteen hours for about 15 seconds of actual action. Action that will keep my brothers and sisters fed, and their vehicles working.

The men and women of the 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron from Joint Base Charleston are game changers. They allow coalition forces to sustain operations in some of the most austere locations on Earth. They are force multipliers.

Video: Airlift supports warfighter

Photo: (Top) Air Force Staff Sgt. Stephen Adams, an 816th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron loadmaster, observes 36,500 pounds of JP-8 fuel fly out the back of a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III cargo aircraft over Afghanistan July 8, 2011. The C-17 dropped more than 121,000 pounds of food and fuel during a 15-hour mission. Supplies were dropped to U.S. and coalition troops. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri) (Bottom) Staff Sgt. Adams releases 48,000 pounds of Meals, Ready to Eat out of the C-17 on July 8, 2011 over Afghanistan during the concealment of the night sky. The crews also airdropped more than 73,000 pounds of JP-8 fuel during their mission. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. David Salanitri)

An Airman rises to honor a fallen Soldier

By Maj. Rosaire Bushey
AETC Public Affairs

Today I had the privilege to be a very small part of several hundred people who gathered to honor a fallen warrior. Army Sgt. Thomas Bohall returned to Texas today from Afghanistan and he was met by a line of respect that stretched for more than half a mile.

Fallen Soldier Words, however, are a poor substitute to the sights and more specifically to a single face in which a whole world of non-verbal emotion collided.

Lining the road there were uniforms, mostly ABUs, the odd BDU, flight suits, civilian slacks, skirts, suits. They were representative of the team that makes the military work. They were worn by every skin tone you could consider and they came equipped with boots, shoes, pumps, and heels; with berets, flight caps, garrison caps and even cowboy hats, and they stood under a double line of 50 state flags – everywhere you looked you could see all of America represented.
At the end of the line, through the base gates, two ladder trucks from local fire departments formed an arch across the road, with an American flag hanging. And as the procession approached, what little noise there was ceased. Cars stopped, contractors doing grounds maintenance stood at attention and doffed their hats, uniformed service members saluted.

As Sgt. Bohall passed I dipped my eyes and in a fraction of a second, locked eyes with a woman who I can only assume was a wife, girlfriend or sister. I’ll never know. She was no more than two feet away. She was sitting sideways in her car, facing directly into the row of us lining the road. Her face, wracked with grief and desperately straining to hold back tears that would end her connection with us, was a storm of emotion.

Salute a fallen SoldierBarely visible beneath the grief there was also a hint of a smile on her tear-stained lips. That near-smile and her wide eyes spoke clearly of pride – the pride she had for Sgt. Bohall – Thomas — regardless of the relationship they shared. Mostly, however, I saw in her face thankfulness. She was staring at people who had never met Thomas, never met her or her family, and yet here they were. On some level I think she probably understood at that moment that Thomas had always been around family, even when he was far from home.

In a second, she was gone, replaced by the low rumble of 74 motorcycles from the Patriot Guard, providing top cover for Sgt. Bohall and his family.

Salutes were lowered, cars moved, groundskeepers went back to work, but it was all quieter now. Did it matter that we were there; that we took an insignificant portion of our lives and saluted a fallen comrade?

Had you seen this woman’s face, her eyes, her gratitude, you wouldn’t even ask.

It made a difference. It mattered … a lot.

Photos: (Top) A U.S. Army carry team transfers the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall, of Bel Aire, Kan., at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, June 7. Sergeant Bohall was assigned to the 4th Battalion, 101st Aviation Regiment, 159th Combat Aviation Brigade, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault), Fort Campbell, Ky. (Bottom) A crowd gathers as a motorcade processional transporting the remains of Army Sgt. Thomas A. Bohall. Sergeant Bohall was one of six soldiers from Fort Campbell who were supporting Operation Enduring Freedom and killed by an improvised explosive device during an insurgent attack May 26, 2011 in Kandahar province, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photos by Don Lindsey)

 

Advanced Combat Controller Training

Advanced Combat Controller Training

This blog focuses on a Senior Airman that has done something out of the box. Senior Airman David Salinitri, a public affairs specialist for the Air Force Special Operations Command, has taken the challenge to go through combat controller training for documentation. He is wearing a helmet cam to show the world firsthand what it takes to be a combat controller.

“I can bench press near 250lbs, but when it came to having to maneuver my way through this rope course, the course definitely had its way with me.”

Airman Salinitri walks us through his experiences and how he performs while training. He is required to go through courses like rope climbing, water confidence, buddy breathing, etc. As I perused his videos and images, I felt the pain our Airmen endure to defend our nation. It makes me want to be there and not be there at the same time. Combat Controllers are much respected Airmen with a huge sense of pride, and if I was in their shoes I would feel the same way. Interested in learning more? Take a deep breath, and prepare for a blog that falls just short of coating you in sweat. Yeah, it’s that intense. Check it out.

PHOTO: Combat Control students from the Special Tactics Training Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., assemble their gear during water confidence training, Sept. 9, 2010 here.

Blog Spotlight: Nathanael the Photog

Combat Outpost Mizan*Occasionally, Air Force Live puts the spotlight on individual blogs written by Airmen or their family members. These blogs provide an unofficial glimpse into the various aspects of Air Force life. Opinions expressed are those of the bloggers and are not endorsed by the US Air Force.

Senior Airman Nathanael Callon, a photographer, has been tasked to go on his second deployment with less than three years of service. While he will miss his one-year anniversary to his wife,  he is able to keep in touch with family, friends and readers through his blog. With a father who is a Chief Master Sergeant, Airman Callon is an ambitious Below-The-Zone Airman and is already a Staff Sergeant select with only 28 months in service.

In his fairly new blog, Airman Callon shows us his day to day life as a photographer on a Provincial Reconstruction Team in Afghanistan. He explains the tough duties a photographer has in a deployed environment and shares his personal experiences being part of the team.

If you don’t know much about what provincial life is like in Afghanistan, Airman Callon offers some glimpses through his photography and personal narrative. He takes readers through the monochromatic desert (which is surprisingly beautiful in its own way, I might add), a lovely sunset, and the story of his tired looking boots and shuras.

“July 13th was the first shura I was able to go to. After multiple attempts to get on a mission, I had finally succeeded. It was the perfect day: the sun was covered by dust, it was only moderately hot and I only had two cameras, three lenses, two weapons and my body armor to carry! Like I said, the perfect day.”

Since then, Airman Callon has been trying to update his blog as much as possible but there are times when he can’t because of the places to which he is sent.

“We try to get out as early as possible to keep from hiking this area in the heat of the day. By 9a.m., it is already getting pretty hot. Not to mention all the gear you have to carry. Our radio guy, Pfc. Cobbs, carries an extra 110 pounds of gear every mission. I’m sure you can imagine how hiking this area can be.”

To follow more of Airman Callon’s experiences and blog, please visit Nathanael the Photog.

PHOTO: COMBAT OUTPOST MIZAN, Afghanistan — Soldiers assigned to 3rd Platoon, Fox Company, 2nd Squadron, 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment and Afghan National Security Forces walk beside a village during a dismounted patrol near Combat Outpost Mizan, Mizan District, Zabul Province, Aug. 26, 2010. Members of 3rd Platoon, Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul and Afghan National Security Forces patrolled the area to meet with local elders and ensure security in the area. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Nathanael Callon/Released)

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