Tag Archives: Airmen

Deploy; and recharge your honor and service

By TSgt Kevin Nichols
3rd Combat Camera Squadron, Lackland AFB, Texas

Tech. Sgt. Kevin Nichols writes as a guest blogger from the perspective of a mentor speaking to a young airman who may be getting ready to deploy for the first time…

TSgt. Nichols writing a journal entry
You’ve heard stories from veterans. You’ve seen your brethren deploy and come back with stories of grandeur. Now—it’s your turn. Maybe you’ve never deployed before. It’s about to be an experience of a lifetime and one only the military can give you.

In all three of my deployments in the last five years (two to Iraq, one to Southwest Asia), each one has given me lasting memories of renewed honor and a true definition of why we signed “the bottom line.” It wasn’t for college, to leave town or to gain a girlfriend/boyfriend. These are simply the great benefits in exchange for your life to defend this nation “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” Remember those words? They can be lost in the grime of everyday Air Force life for some.

My first deployment in 2006 took me to 14 Middle East locations throughout five countries. Stationed out of Balad, Iraq, I was part of a Combat News Team documenting and telling the Air Force story – how the Air Force is contributing to the fight. I went on a convoy with the last Air Force team that was there in lieu of a long-standing Army tasking when the Army was spread thin. It was not only a historic event, but it was also exhilarating to be on this mission — in a Humvee — traipsing through the Iraq countryside. In another convoy trip while I was documenting the oil pipeline refurbishment project Air Force teams were working on in Kirkuk, Iraq, another convoy could be seen and heard on the horizon by a plume of smoke…it had hit an improvised explosive device. It was just 20 minutes behind us and on the same road we just traveled down. Four Soldiers were killed. We honored them that night on the flightline as their caskets were loaded onto an aircraft bound for Dover, Del. It’s not my prettiest memory, but it brought the realness of the words “ultimate sacrifice” home for all of us that were out there with them that night. It was pouring down rain with gusts of 50 mile-per-hour winds as we stood firm at attention with our salute firmly pressed to our covers, not moving an inch as each casket passed before our eyes.

During my second tour in Iraq in 2008, I had the unique opportunity to be the voice of servicemen and women on the American Forces Network (AFN) Baghdad. The radio and television station served as a hub of information and stories of all services that not only was broadcast throughout Iraq, but through the Pentagon Channel and AFN stations throughout Europe. This was a unique time in history when Muqtada al-Sadr, a very influential religious and political figure in Iraq, launched a nationwide civil disobedience campaign across Iraq to protest raids and detentions against the Mahdi Army and called for attacks against Americans in order to encourage troops to leave Iraq. The camaraderie of our crew through this intense time will stand as a special moment and a lasting memory from this tour. It was the people I directly served with, some of whom I had also worked with in the past, that had a lasting impact on me. It takes huge dedication and talent to learn to work together and complete the mission during intense times. We also felt a huge sense of pride putting out stories of hard-working military teams throughout Iraq stomping out terrorism, helping villages and healing the sick and wounded during a critical time in history.

I recently returned from my third tour in December 2010 from Southwest Asia. I witnessed and publicized the official end of Operation Iraqi Freedom and welcomed in Operation New Dawn. I was a part of a reconnaissance mission that hit an 8,000 flight milestone and had been the “eyes and ears” over Iraq and Afghanistan for 20 years. Most of all, I will always remember personally saluting and honoring 20 heroes who sacrificed their lives for our country. Folks, if participating in a human remains (HR) ceremony doesn’t tug at the heart strings or bring a tear to the eye, reminding us of the price we pay for the freedoms we fight for, you may be in the wrong profession. These ceremonies also bind us together as a nation as our heroes come home to Dover where families and loved ones wait for their husband, wife, mom, dad, brother, sister, etc.

We are left to continue their legacy, making sure their service wasn’t in vain. I’m sure the families who’ve lost someone won’t forget and neither will I. Sure, you’ll miss your family and friends, and they’ll miss you when you deploy. I have a lovely wife and two daughters that I can barely stand being away from for long periods at a time. But you’ll also gain experiences and a real sense of what’s happening in the Middle East or wherever you deploy. It may be something I didn’t really understand until I deployed for the first time. So, when you’re called to deploy, do what one of my deployed wing commanders used to say and “soak up the sun and sand, and serve honorably.”

Your stories will become legacies and your family will be proud to tell them for years to come – ones that generations will tell for many lifetimes.

Photo: I take time to write in my journal while I wait at a forward operating base (FOB) in Iraq for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter to pick us up and take us to our next assignment … or at least to the next FOB to hitch another ride to our next assignment. What am I writing about? How cool it’s going to be to ride in the Blackhawk helicopter that’s coming to pick us up! (U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Lance Cheung)

In memory of my father

Earlier this month, we asked you all to share some of your stories with us. To get the ball rolling Capt Millerchip shared her life changing experiences working with the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operation Center in “Cherishing life, past heroes.” Dave Steele was one of many who answered our call…

By Dave Steele
Son of Col. Ralph J. Steele

Mr. Steele's father in group photo

Dear Captain Millerchip,

I read your blog posting regarding Memorial Day stories and wanted to share mine with you.

I’m not a veteran but Memorial Day and Veterans Day have a special meaning to me. My dad passed away on Memorial Day back in 2000. He was Col. Ralph J. Steele and served in the Army Air Corps and U.S. Air Force from 1942 until his retirement in 1972. He was assigned to the 21st Weather Squadron during WWII stationed in England and eventually France, served in Korea and in the 1960s became the first commander of the Air Force Global Weather Center (AFGWC) located at Offutt Air Force Base where he worked in the famous “Building D.” He served our country with honor and dignity throughout his career and was instrumental in helping develop computerized systems for weather data gathering during his time at Offutt. His decorations include a bronze star with oak leaf clusters and two Legion of Merit awards.

When he passed away he was buried at the Portland National Cemetery in Oregon with full military honors. I still get emotional when I hear Taps. One of the most poignant moments for me during the ceremony was when they handed the flag to my mother – I will never forget that. In effect, my mother served alongside my father, as do all military wives. They had been married for 58 years when he died. They were married in 1942 and three weeks after their wedding my father was on the Queen Mary bound for England not knowing when he would return. When my father retired my mother was also presented with a certificate of service for her steadfast years of supporting my father and his service to our country.

This Memorial Day was the first year that my mother could not visit my father’s grave to put flowers on it. The National Cemetery in Portland is on a beautiful rolling hillside. On Memorial Day, when the flags are all out and the color guards are there, it is a very emotional and inspiring sight. I am quite proud of my father’s service to our country and my mother’s support of him and our family during his service. I was 15 years old when my father retired and we settled in Corvallis, Ore. To this day, one of my biggest regrets is that I didn’t continue in his footsteps and also serve our country.

 Young Dave SteeleWhen I see or read stories of our brave men and women serving our country in these difficult times it always makes me think about my father. I know he would be extremely proud of all the service members and their sacrifices to ensure our freedom and the threats to freedom everywhere.

Thank you Captain Millerchip, for your service and for your efforts in honoring our past and present service members.


Photos: (Top) A picture taken of my father when he was in England during the war. (Bottom) A picture of me taken in the AFGWC cement bunker in Building D in 1968 during a family visit day.

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)


Dispatch from an Airman in Haiti — Team Efforts

Chief Master Sergeant Tyler Foster is the Air Force Special Operations Command Public Affairs deployed chief of operations at the Troussaint Louverture International Airport in Port au Prince, Haiti.  He and his team are supporting U.S. Southern Command relief efforts in the wake of the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the nation.

Most air traffic controllers work in an air conditioned state-of-the-art facility with a panoramic view of the airfield they manage. They put in their 8 hours, jump in their car, head home, kiss the kids and wife and maybe even enjoy a nice cold brew in front of the tube.

I did say most, right?

Combat ControllerMost of the time, combat controllers are deployed into war zones. These tip-of-the-spear battlefield Airmen manage air traffic while dodging bullets and shooting bad guys. There’s no office. They don’t even shave most of the time because there’s not enough water. The cushiest part of their job are the knee pads built into their uniforms. The commute to work? How about a free-fall drop from 10,000 feet? Not your cup of tea? Maybe the 10-mile ruck march into 14,000 foot mountains with 120 pounds on your back? That’s a typical day in the Air Commando CCT’s office.

Here, it’s a little different. They walk to work here. It’s only about a quarter mile to the office … a fold up table and some chairs in the middle of the infield at the Toussaint Louverture International Airport. No air conditioning. It’s hot. It’s humid. It’s noisy. And rather than directing air strikes on hostile forces in Afghanistan, they’re controlling hundreds of flights per day bringing life saving supplies for the people here who need them.

Normally, this airport handles about 35 aircraft per day. Last Saturday, we managed about 240. For you math whizzes out there, that’s one aircraft every 6 minutes. If you’re a history buff, then you’ll remember the freshly minted U.S. Air Force had it’s “3-minute beat” during the Berlin Airlift back in ’48-’49 … landing one aircraft every 3 minutes. We’re moving some serious tonnage into this LZ. To date, it’s about 3.5 million pounds … that’s water, food and medical supplies for the millions of Haitian survivors here. Not one fixed or rotary wing aircraft hits the tarmac here without a combat controller’s DNA on it.

With this level of logistical movements, ramp space comes at a premium sometimes. When we first got here … 7 hours after the President of Haiti requested humanitarian assistance … this LZ was in utter chaos. There were 42 aircraft jammed into a parking ramp designed to accommodate 9. They were parked under each other’s wings, nose to nose, on the taxiway, even on the runway … it was pure mayhem. It took this team of pros a full day to untangle that mess. By then, we were landing one aircraft every 30 minutes or so. As this op matured, combat control teams worked with planners at the newly stood up Haiti Flight Operations Coordination Cell at Tyndall AFB, Fla., to design a system to avoid air traffic and ramp space congestion and conflicts. We call it a “slot” system.

Combat Contoller FieldIt’s really pretty simple as long as everyone follows the rules. Call up the HFOCC, reserve a slot time, fly here on time, land, off-load your cargo and passengers, then get out of Dodge on your reserved take off time. Simple, right? Sometimes, not so much. For whatever reason, an aircrew may spend more time on the ground than they’re allotted. That affects other aircraft in the holding pattern waiting to land. Sometimes they run low on fuel and have to divert. Sometimes we have the maximum number of aircraft on the ground here at the airport … can’t land more or we go back to day 1 … not good. So flights are diverted … as they are at every airport … for safety reasons. There’s no favoritism. A plane is a plane to us.

Still some people just don’t get it and bust their reserved times. Think about it like this: have you ever made reservations for dinner at a nice restaurant? Maybe you’re running late, so you call. They hold your table for 20 more minutes. You show with your lovely lady, enjoy dinner, wine and pleasant conversation. You run up a nice $300 tab. You’re there an hour and a half … 45 minutes past your reserved time. Now there’s a couple who’s celebrating their 10th anniversary waiting for their reserved table … you know, the one you’re sitting at. They are late to seat and eat, so that has a ripple effect on down the line. Ultimately, other customers leave and eat elsewhere because, well, it’s just rude to make people wait that long when they’re hungry and wanna eat. In the end, customers are ticked, and the restaurant loses money.

Here, the same principle applies. Only instead of money, every busted minute over the allocated slot time may mean a life is lost because much-needed supplies didn’t make it here on time. It’s an easy fix. Get here on time. Get your cargo offloaded in time to make your takeoff time and get out of the next guy’s way. We’ll bring you in and get you out … you have to do everything in the middle quickly.

We’re all here to help, and that includes helping each other too. 

 Photo Cutlines:  

Top right:   A U.S. Air Force Combat Controller from the 23rd Special Tactics Squadron, Air Force Special Operations Command, Hurlburt Field Fl., exits a helicopter on a drop zone in the outer lying area of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, where humanitarian aid will be air dropped and distributed by members of the United Nations Jan 21, 2010.  Department of Defense assets have been deployed to assist in the Haiti relief effort  following a magnitude 7 earthquake that hit the city on Jan. 12, 2010.(U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. James L. Harper Jr.)

Lower left:  A U.S. Air Force combat controller from the 21st Special Tactics Squadron, Hurlburt Field, Fla., assesses a potential relief supply air delivery drop zone during Operation Unified Response in Port au Prince, Haiti, Jan. 19, 2010. The U.S. Department of Defense contingent is part of a larger national and international relief effort led by the U.S. Agency for International Development in response to the Jan. 12, 2010, 7.0 earthquake here. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Dennis J. Henry Jr.)

Air Force New Media guide and video available online

As part of our initiative to help guide Airmen into being communicators, “New Media and the Airforce” is now available for download. The pamphlet, created by the Air Force Public Affairs Agency, Emerging Technology Division, should be used as an instructional guide and is primarily intended for Air Force Public Affairs people. It is not to be construed as official guidance, endorsement of products or the sites listed, nor is it policy. All Airmen and the public are free to download and consult the book to learn more about social media and how it is being used as a new communication tool. The accompanying video is also available for viewing on Air Force BlueTube. This video shows how Airmen are currently using social media to tell their story.

We will update the guide frequently and are interested in crowdsourcing it in order to hear from society what works and what doesn’t. We know it’s not perfect (we just found several typos from comments on the blog–thank you), but we’re working on it. In the meantime, feel free to tell and share your story in your voice. We’re getting there and this guide was one way to get Public Affairs folks talking and listening to the digital world.

UPDATE: Requests for more information have been made. We’d like to offer these documents as well. The 2006 Secretary of the Air Force’s Letter that all Airmen are communicators. Link.

The letter states: “The success of this effort will rely on making every Airman an ambassador for our Air Force, at home and abroad. Your stories resonate the most with local newspapers, schools, and rotary clubs. The American public looks up to you as a model of integrity, and by sharing your experiences you are the best spokesmen for our Air Force.”

Further guidance from Headquarters Air Force in the form of Roll Call states:

“You are not prohibited from using blogs or social network sites, but you must consider the following before posting information to the public Web:

Classified information – this includes information that is not available to the public and would not be released under the Freedom of Information Act. Releasing classified information to the public—intentionally or otherwise—could result in UCMJ action, or worse, the compromise of national security.

Operational Security (OPSEC) – while certain pieces of information may not be classified, when put together, there can be detrimental results. Writing about current or future operations, locations of personnel or equipment, or arrival and departure information are all sensitive details that, if pieced together, could endanger the Air Force mission and the lives of our friends and Allies.

Illegal acts or incidents under investigation – a blog can be considered as evidence of guilt or personal knowledge of a crime. Illegal acts discussed in blogs could be used as evidence for UCMJ action.

Use of government computer systems – personal blogging on a government computer system is strictly prohibited. Government servers are reserved for the conduct of official business, and violations are punishable under the UCMJ. Moreover, personal blogging on a government computer places the government’s ability to protect national security at risk.”

A draft Air Force Instruction (for those in the Air Force), dealing with social media, is in coordination. This is new ground for some. Consult your supervisor, base Public Affairs office, base legal office or commander if in doubt.