Tag Archives: deployment

Uncommon Airmen

Basic trainees recite the Oath of Enlistment at Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland, Texas.

Chief Master Sgt. Jeff Malherek
92nd Civil Engineer Squadron

 I do not choose to be a common man.

It is my right to be uncommon–if I can.

I seek opportunity–not security. I do not wish to be a kept citizen, humbled and dulled by having the state look after me.

I want to take the calculated risk; to dream and to build, to fail and to succeed.

I refuse to sacrifice incentive for a hand-out. I prefer the challenges of life to a guaranteed existence; the thrill of fulfillment over a stale calm of utopia.

I will not trade freedom for benefits or my dignity for a handout. I will never cower before any master nor bend to any threat.

It is my heritage to stand erect, proud and unafraid; to think and act for myself, to enjoy the benefits of my creations and to face the world boldly and say, ‘This I have done.’

Dean Alfange, an American Statesman, wrote “An American Creed” in 1950. Let me explain why this resonates with me as a senior NCO and why it should with everyone wearing our nation’s uniform.

I believe each of us wearing our nation’s uniform has chosen an uncommon life. Because we are normally surrounded by people who have also chosen this life, we sometimes forget how special we really are. I’m quickly reminded of our uncommonness while spending time with non-military family and friends here in Spokane, Wash., my hometown in Minnesota and all across our nation. My friends and family are always quick to remind me how incredible my life is. They can’t ever imagine themselves doing what we Airmen do and going where we go to do it. They stand in awe of our discipline, our love for this country and our commitment to accomplishing the mission.

Let me remind you of our uncommonness. There are just more than 316 million people in the United States. There are less than 1.5 million active duty who serve in the military and are responsible for their safety and security.

There is nothing common about raising your hand and swearing to give your life to defend this nation.

There is nothing common about leaving your spouse and kids to go off to a location where you will serve in harm’s way. Remember, the mothers and fathers of America have handed you their sons and daughters. With the faith that you will mold them, protect them and lead them. There is nothing common about that!

Monday morning, whatever your specialty is, whether you’re fixing an aircraft, manning a security post, seeing patients at the clinic, repairing an air conditioner, refueling aircraft or training aircrews how to survive in hostile environments, know this: You are not common. You seek opportunity, not security. You want to dream, to build and to succeed. You are not ordinary. You are extraordinary!

George Orwell once said, “People sleep peacefully at night knowing rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf.”

Your friends and family, your brothers and sisters, know that you, and Airmen like you, are prepared to protect them at all costs. Have no misconceptions, we are in a serious business, and we need serious people to carry out our mission. Uncommon people! Extraordinary people!

Combat couple: a perfect match

by Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler and Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler is a broadcaster and her husband, Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, is a photojournalist. Shaun is on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent. While the couple and their children have been separated by prior deployments, this is the first time Shaun has deployed while Aaron remained stateside. Shaun and Aaron have agreed to share their unique military experience with Air Force Live. In this installment, the couple discusses getting married and starting a family in a he-said/she-said format.)

Aaron:
If it were left to the wife, it would take forever for us to get to the present. She has a knack for nostalgia, always asking if I remember when this or that happened. So, I’ll be taking the lead on this one.
CombatCouple_new

Okinawa was my first duty station. Working the grind of a weekly Marine Corps newspaper wasn’t always great, but life was still pretty good–partying like there was no tomorrow, making mistakes and a lot of juvenile decisions. That’s life as a young Marine, right?

Time passed and women came and went, but there was one that somehow always stuck in my mind–Shaun, the Airman from Defense Information School. There was something there that I couldn’t ignore, despite moving our separate ways after DINFOS–her to Texas, me to Oki. Sitting in my room one night, I decided to send her a Myspace message. Yeah, you read that right. Myspace was cool back then.

hey i know this is gonna sound off the wall but just listen.
i know we both got our own things going on right now but while i was at dinfos i kinda fell for ya which is stupid cause  we didn’t get a chance to spend much time with each other.
anyway u do mean a lot to me and for the life of me, i don’t know why but u do.
so check it out. It’s not gonna be for a long while but whenever it is i wanna be able to look u up. it might be 2, 3 or even more years down the line, and who knows where we will be then. but ive known alot of really good people who ive lost touch with and never really gotta chance to get back in touch.
so i know this all sounds crazy and honestly im not even sure what im tryin to say, but just keep the door open i guess. and a couple years from now i wanna look u up and see where ur at.
this prolly all sounds crazy 2 u it does to me but i just wanted to say it. so there it is.

Well, she got back to me; I got back to her, and we stayed close.

Shortly after a visit to Texas, we decided to seriously do the long-distance dating thing. In the midst of all this, I received an email from the C.W. Bill Young Department of Defense Bone Marrow Foundation.

The cotton swab.

They were writing to me to let me know I was a potential match for one of their patients. A few blood tests later, it was confirmed. I was the best match.

Shaun:
Wait. I can’t let him leave out all the sappy stuff, although the Myspace message is a good touch. I love reading that thing; it makes me tear up a little every time. Growing up in a Hispanic-Catholic household, I started to believe that things which would otherwise seem like minor coincidences are signs from above. If it weren’t for his attempt at impressing me at DINFOS, we wouldn’t be where we were, and he never would have popped up as a match for bone marrow donation. To me, the message, the cotton swab and being the perfect match–they were all signs that we were always meant to be together. Call me crazy, but what were the odds really?

Aaron:
Always interrupting me mid-story–that’s marriage isn’t it?

I guess I bought into the magic a little. I loved the girl. I didn’t want to lose her and didn’t want the military to keep us apart–and she was coming up on orders soon.

I popped the question.

Shaun:
He asked on the phone, which was not the most romantic setting. It still made my heart melt.

Texas is one of the few states where you can get married by proxy. Within a few weeks, we received Aaron’s paperwork from Okinawa naming one of my friends, an Airman I worked with, as his proxy. You can’t imagine the laughter and shock that ensued when our supervisor found out that our lunch break had turned into a courthouse visit, where Sauce stood in for my husband.

Aaron:
I got ready to donate bone marrow shortly after the wedding. I was told I would need to choose an escort to help me after the procedure, because I’d be weak.

“I’d like it to be my wife with me,” I said in a serious, business-like tone. It had been maybe two weeks since we technically tied the knot, so it still felt cool to say “my wife.”

A few weeks later, both of us flew to California. It was the first time we had seen each other since becoming husband and wife, and we had two weeks alone together.

After the docs finished the marrow procedure, we visited Shaun’s family in Texas. At this point, our marriage was still a secret. She had some crazy idea that it would be best to keep it a secret until we could have a real wedding for her family.

Four weeks into our trip, on the day we were supposed to drive up to see her mom, I woke up to a pregnancy test being waved in front of my face.
We were pregnant.

According to the math, it took us no time at all to add a new Hostutler to the mix. There was no way we’d be able to keep this a secret any longer. Now Shaun would not only have to surprise her family with the news of our marriage, but also that we were expecting.

Word travels fast in a Mexican and Italian family. One of her sisters let the cat out of the bag. Before we could drive up to Austin from San Antonio, the phone was ringing off the hook. It was her mother, Patricia Cano. I say it like that because this is a woman whose full name must be used, a woman not to be reckoned with. I mustered up the courage to answer the phone.

“Hello?”

“You got something you wanna tell me?” she responded.

I was ill-equipped to handle this conversation.

“I think you should talk to Shaun,” I said, trying to save myself.

“Oh no! You’re man enough to get my daughter pregnant, then you can talk to me!”

Let’s just say the initial impact didn’t go over so well, but by the time we made it up to Austin, Patricia couldn’t be happier for her daughter and was already asking to be called “Nana Pat.”

Fast-forward a little–three years, to be exact. You really don’t want to read every detail.

Shaun:
Even though we had a fairy-tale start, every marriage will have its set of problems and bumps in the road.

Aaron:
And being a not-so-typical dual military couple–it was rocky. It was tough. There have been nights spent sleeping separately, doors slammed, tears shed (hers, not mine, of course), and the “D” word dropped. When we were good, we were great. When we were bad, it got rough. But we’re making it. We aren’t going to lie and say every step has been easy.

Shaun:
But when you find “the one,” there’s no one you’d rather fight, no one else you love more. When it’s all said and done, there’s no one else you’d rather face the world with.

Aaron:
Three years and two sons …

Through all of it, Shaun was always a great wife. But she was meant to be a mother. I don’t know how she does it. I love being a dad, but I’m pretty much clueless and not afraid to admit it.

Which brings me to where we are now, the deployment. I was originally scheduled to deploy and she was going to stay home with the kids.

Originally is the key word.

Life has a funny way of mixing things up when you least expect it.

Read the second “Combat couple” entry.

Read the first “Combat couple” entry.

TBI and PTSD: ‘There is no shame in getting help’

by Tech. Sgt. Chuck Walker, 436th Airlift Wing Public Affairs
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

As high profile cases have emerged about National Football League players and other athletes sustaining brain injuries, and as the nation has watched veterans return home from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder have become hot topics.

Allara2

Master Sgt. Jennifer Allara, an explosive ordnance disposal team leader at Dover Air Force Base, has experienced both.

In Sept. 2009, Allara’s EOD team at Provincial Reconstruction Farah, Afghanistan, was ambushed while out on patrol. A teammate, Staff Sgt. Bryan Berky, was killed by a sniper during the attack. For Allara, it was a wake-up call.

“We are trained to accept a certain amount of danger with our job,” she said. “I always thought in terms of me; what if something happens to me? What if we get blown up? I wasn’t thinking in terms of losing a team member in a turret.”

Upon her return from Afghanistan, Allara went to mental health and sought therapy when she began experiencing symptoms of TBI and PTSD. For her, it seemed to bring about more questions than answers.

Determined to heal, Allara recently began treatment at the National Intrepid Center of Excellence in Bethesda, Md. She will undergo four weeks of analysis and leave the center with a care plan designed to meet her needs.

Allara hopes that her example will compel others to seek help if they are experiencing problems when they return from deployment.

“There is no shame in getting help,” she said. “There is no shame in recognizing what is going on with someone and being able to reach out and help. If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your Airmen.”

For more on this story, click here.

Combat couple: staff sergeant reflects on trading drink orders for deployment orders

by Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler
edited by Meredith March, Defense Media Activity Air Force Production

(Editor’s note: Staff Sgt. Shaun Hostutler is a broadcaster and her husband, Marine Sgt. Aaron Hostutler, is a photojournalist. Shaun is on her first tour in Afghanistan as a combat correspondent. While the couple and their children have been separated by prior deployments, this is the first time Shaun has deployed while Aaron remained stateside. Shaun and Aaron have agreed to share this unique military experience with Air Force Live.)

It all started with a Q-tip.

Well, actually, the Q-tip is the beginning of something else (we’ll save that story for later). I suppose the best way to start this story would be to share how I came to be a member of the world’s finest Air Force in the first place.

That’s why you’re here after all, isn’t it?

When I first started out in the Air Force, I was determined to stay focused. After dropping out of college and moving home to Austin (I couldn’t pay for tuition on my own after a year and a half at Baylor), I had spent a few years bartending. While the job was fun, it was just that – a job. I had always promised myself I wouldn’t settle into a job; I would establish a career in a field that I had genuine passion for. I wanted to be a journalist.

In bartending, there was free booze but no benefits and no health insurance. I had barely enough money to pay bills, feed my dog, buy some ramen noodles and send the rest to family who needed it. And sometimes, there was barely enough for the ramen noodles.

I can’t tell you how creative cooking can get when you’ve got next to nothing in the fridge and your power is cut off.

After two years of cleaning crusted puke and urine from bathroom stalls, being grabbed at by frat boys who couldn’t hold their liquor or control their bladders, and having to force a flirtatious smile all the while (because a sour face makes no money), I was convinced that I had failed. Some friends had graduated from college, others were starting careers. They were moving forward and I was going nowhere.

How would I find a way to finish school, land the perfect job, do what I love, make a good living, and establish world peace before I turned 21? My standards were high and unrealistic at times, but I held onto them.

I determined the easiest way to get to a combat zone and begin my career as a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist – without having to pour coffee for some editor while scraping together enough money to live – would be to enlist in the military. Why hadn’t I thought of this before?

I went to the first recruiting office I could find. I grew up an Army brat and figured, why the hell not? The Army office was closed that day, but the Air Force recruiter was in his office. From what I hear, it’s usually the other way around. I have never regretted walking into that office.

The life that the Air Force promised seemed to be so much more.

They emphasized education, encouraged independent thinking, and rewarded hard work. Not only did I find that I would be able to deploy, but I could also guarantee a job as a news broadcaster if I could pass a voice audition. I jumped at the chance. Maybe I wouldn’t be the next Eddie Adams right away, but I could go for being the next Christiane Amanpour or Lisa Ling. A few short weeks later, I was on a blue bus, on my way to basic training at what was then called Lackland Air Force Base – the “Gateway to the Air Force” – in San Antonio, Texas.

When I first enlisted, I had no idea how hard it would be to volunteer for a combat deployment. My military training instructor at basic nearly spit his coffee in my face, laughing when I asked during the second week of training how soon would it be before I could get an assignment to Afghanistan. I had to get in country before the war was over, because I knew that even though the war had reached its seven year mark and the nation was preparing to send in a surge, it could end at any moment and I’d miss my chance.

It would be five years before I would finally deploy.

It seemed to me that I was always in the right place at the wrong time. No matter how often I raised my hand to go, there was always a roadblock. I think it was fate’s sense of humor. It wouldn’t be until I stopped waving my hand like a six-year-old with a pressing question that I’d actually be able to go.

I thought it was never going to happen.

I guess that brings us to where we are now. Five years passed. In the time it took for me to finally get orders to Afghanistan, I was promoted, got married, moved across the world, was promoted again, had a baby, was tasked for two deployments that were canceled, had another baby, and returned to the States.

Just as my husband and I were getting settled in at my third duty station and looking to buy a house, he received orders to Afghanistan. And I was staying home with the kids. I wanted to be happy for him. Secretly, I was annoyed.

But life has a funny way of working things out. After all, I am writing to you from Afghanistan. Must be that funny sense of humor fate has again. Call it luck or pure coincidence, but this time his orders were canceled and mine finally stuck. I call it fate. It’s hard not to, when it was something as small as a Q-tip that got us to where we are now.

But like I said, that’s a story for another day.

‘Sir, tell the TACP thanks,’ Dec. 12, 2012

 

TACPBy Brig. Gen. Jack L. Briggs II
Headquarters, Air Combat Command

On May 13, 2010, an Airman First Class taught me some lessons I’ll never forget. I think of Airman 1st Class Corey Hughes almost every week. His actions on that particular day in May remind me to focus on others first, that heroic leaders exist among us all the time, and doing the right thing takes courage but is worth it.

When troops on the ground in Afghanistan run into trouble, our asymmetric advantage is our ability to bring airpower to bear quickly and accurately. It was no different on May 13. A patrol of soldiers ran into an ambush in eastern Afghanistan, receiving large volumes of enemy mortar, heavy machine gun, rocket propelled grenades and small-arms fire. My formation of two F-15E Strike Eagles was called to support the “Troops in Contact” situation or “TIC.” As we arrived on scene, there were already American wounded.

For the aircraft overhead, our contacts on the ground are young, well trained and brave Airmen embedded with each Army unit; they are called Tactical Air Control Parties (TACP). They are the node between the Army ground commanders and the Airmen providing support overhead. They translate the situation from the ground commander’s perspective, integrate airpower into the plan of maneuver or fires and guide our attacks with amazing precision. That can sound antiseptic and simple on paper, but in the thick of the battle, it is 100 percent adrenaline, noise and concentration as bullets fly.

The fight on the ground was very violent by the time my flight arrived. Our initial contact was with Airman 1st Class Hughes who was yelling into the radio. He had to be loud as he keyed the mic, because his voice was drowned out by the sound of gunfire in the background. His calls were quick and broken, as he stopped to fire his own weapon in between radio calls. At one point he said, “Stand by” and the radio went silent. For the next few minutes, we orbited overhead and waited. Where was he? We called but no answer. Finally, his voice came back. He was out of breath and huffing into his mic, but he calmly gave us the plan to provide a show of force and cover the ingress of helicopters to evacuate the patrol — first the wounded and then the rest of the team. The show of force bought them time and space, and eventually all were extracted safely from a tough situation.

After we landed and debriefed our mission, I headed to the Bagram Craig Joint Theater Hospital. Craig Hospital is one of the advanced coalition hospitals in Afghanistan that receives wounded from the battlefield and stabilizes them prior to their onward movement to more medical care in the US.

I visited regularly to talk with our medical warriors and see how the wounded were doing. On that day, I had a chance to check up on several of the wounded from the very firefight we’d supported only hours before. I spoke to a few of the Soldiers from that fight, told them they were getting the best care in the world and turned to leave, when a shout of “Sir! Sir!” made me stop. I turned to see a shirtless wounded Soldier who was shot in the legs, calling out for my attention. He motioned me back. His eyes reflected his urgency to tell me something. I walked back, closed the curtain behind me, and crouched to get to his level on the bed.

“Sir, tell the TACP thanks,” he urgently requested. I asked what happened. His story explained the mystery from earlier in the day when A1C Hughes went silent on the radio. This Soldier was moving from one position to another during the firefight and was hit in the legs. Unable to move, he took what cover he could. While performing his primary duty of directing air support, Airman 1st Class Hughes noticed that this Soldier could not move on his own, told us to “stand by”, and ran toward him. He picked the Soldier up and fireman-carried him to a covered position. The Soldier said the one thing he would never forget was that while he was being carried several hundred meters through deadly fire he was staring at a patch on the shoulder of his rescuer. The patch read “TACP.” The Soldier didn’t know the Airman’s name nor did he see him again. He just asked that I pass along the thanks somehow.

I spent the next few days tracking the TACP down and that’s when I met Airman 1st Class Hughes and heard his story first hand. I told him when our F-15E formation checked in we heard the shooting in the background of every radio call. I described how we listened to his clipped calls to us, his calm call to us to “stand by” and then how there were minutes of silence, leaving us concerned as to what was happening. I told him we then heard him breathlessly get back on the radio as he called for our show of force.

“What was going on down there?” I asked. He told me how some of the wounded were near his position and he was going back and forth, under heavy fire, to check on them, give them water and help them out the best he could until MEDEVAC arrived. Corey said he saw a Soldier who could not move on his own and immediately went to pick him up and carry him to safety. Airman 1st Class Hughes then retraced his steps through the enemy fire to get back to his position and continue to call in our effects. What immediately caught my attention was Airman 1st Class Hughes’ tone of voice. He clearly believed his actions weren’t anything special and others would do the same if in that situation.

I often consider the lessons Airman 1st Class Corey Hughes taught that day. His actions inspire us to put others first, understanding there can be a cost. His example affirms that there are brave leaders all around us willing to step forward when it counts, despite the risks. He reminds me that both success and courage are defined by doing what is right, even as the bullets fly. Like the wounded Soldier, I also want to tell the TACP, A1C Hughes, “thanks.”

Photo: Senior Airman Dustin Harris, left, and 1st Lt. John Day, center, discuss radio frequencies with a Soldier assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division during an exercise in frequency hopping at Fort Bragg, N.C. Frequency hopping is changing regular frequencies during transmission, a radio operation technique that ensures secrecy and protects against communication channel jamming. Day and Harris are tactical air control party members with the 14th Air Support Operations Squadron. (U.S. Air Force graphic by Robin Meredith/Photo by Airman 1st Class Alexander Riedel)