Tag Archives: Iraq

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)

U.S. military helps Iraq promote environmentally friendly practices

USAF Lt. Col. Thomas Williams of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq
USAF Lt. Col. Thomas Williams of the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq

Air Force Lt. Col. Thomas N. Williams Jr, PhD, Chief of Planning, Engineering Directorate, Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq, answered bloggers’ questions Aug. 26 on measures being employed in Iraq to boost energy efficiency and to promote environmentally friendly methods.

The Air Force is a vital element in this partnership. This is a joint effort and the Air Force is involved. Nearly one-third of the people participating in this effort are Air Force personnel. There are more than 300 projects going on. The Air Force Center for Engineering and the Environment is helping in this effort, Colonel Williams said.

He emphasized that the key to getting the environment and the economy right is the efficient use of energy. The use of energy has to be environmentally friendly and cost effective to build a more secure Iraq.

The Iraqis are starting to see how good environmental practices will help their country, and the U.S. Military is here to provide the education to provide a greater awareness of how important maintaining a healthy environment is, Colonel Williams said.

“The U.S. military is the most environmentally conscious military in the world,” he continued.

The entire Bloggers Roundup can be heard here.

Posted by Master Sgt. Stephen Delgado

Dispatch from Ali Base, 5 August 2009

Below is this week’s Dispatch from Ali Base from 1st Lt. Korry Leverett.

Airmen help Iraqis fight the flames
By 1st Lt. Korry Leverett
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

When the Ali Base firefighters of the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron aren’t saving baby camels from wells, they are taking time to train Iraqi firefighters.

Earlier this week I received a phone call from Tech. Sgt. Zachary Townsend, a firefighter with the 407th ECES, deployed from Columbus AFB, Miss., who mentioned that his Airmen would be doing “live fire” training with a group of 10 Iraqi firefighters from the Dhi Qar province, An Nasiriyah city … what an opportunity I thought.

After talking to Sergeant Townsend about his request to come out and witness the training, I gathered my Airmen and we headed out to the training site.  Upon arriving on scene I realized just how hot it was, probably 115 degrees, and the wind was blowing around 40 miles per hour.  These were some of the worst conditions imaginable for training outside but there was no stop in these firefighters.  The dust was so bad I could taste it, and the sun beating down on me felt as if it was singeing my face.

Approximately 15 Airmen from the 407th ECES provided hands on training to the Iraqis.  They set up two different live fire scenarios, a container express (CONEX) and a vehicle fire.  After walking through the appropriate responses the firefighters suited up into an additional three layers of clothing and equipment.  It added 70 pounds to the load they were already carrying.  In teams of three, Iraqi and U.S. firefighters battled the fires setup in the CONEX and the vehicle.

I could tell this was a new experience for many of the Iraqis.  I was told they had never before donned some of the safety equipment such as the protective suits or oxygen masks used by many firefighting departments.  Sergeant Townsend mentioned to me that by wearing the additional equipment this would allow them to get close enough to the fire to feel the heat from the flames.  I could feel the heat standing at a safe distance so I can just imagine what it must have been like walking right into the flames … well almost.

This was the final training session for the group but it wouldn’t be soon forgotten.  The Airmen here had been mentoring the Iraqi firefighters for the last six weeks and I could tell that they shared a bond from their experiences together.  Several of them mentioned to me that they believed this was “what it’s all about.”  They knew that if they helped save even one person through their hard work with the Iraqi firefighters then they have accomplished their mission.

One last thing, earlier this year the firefighters from the 407th saved a baby camel from a well and Animal Planet has plans to do a short story on their efforts.  It’s unknown at this time when the feature is expected to air but if you would like more information you can watch a brief news clip done by Staff Sgt. James Stewart, Eielson AFB, Alaska on the Ali Base Web site or visit Stars and Stripes.


ALI BASE, Iraq – Senior Airman John Black from the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron assists an Iraqi firefighter from the Dhi Qar Province, An Nasiriyah city, in positioning his safety equipment and mask before a training event here August 3. Airmen from the 407th ECES have been mentoring the Iraqi firefighters for six weeks in order to provide them with additional fire response experience and training. (US Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tony R. Ritter)

ALI BASE, Iraq – A U.S. Air Force Airman from the 407th Expeditionary Civil Engineer Squadron directs two Iraqi firefighters from the Dhi Qar province, An Nasiriyah city, as they prepare to enter a burning Container Express (CONEX) here August 3.  Airmen from the 407th ECES have been mentoring the Iraqi firefighters for six weeks in order to provide them with adequate fire response experience and training.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Tony R. Ritter)

An Ali Airman returns home

If you’ve been following Air Force Live, you’ve read the weekly “Dispatch from Ali Base,” written by Master Sergeant Russ Petcoff. MSgt Petcoff is now back in the D.C. area, having completed his deployment. Below is his dispatch from stateside. Welcome home, MSgt Petcoff!

An Ali Airman returns home

by Master Sergeant Russell Petcoff

My bedside clock read 1:27 a.m., but to my mind it was 8:27 a.m. It hadn’t adjusted to the seven-hour time difference between Ali Base, Iraq, and northern Virginia. Since I couldn’t sleep, my mind started composing a blog post on the greeting returning Airmen received the other day.

I arrived at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport the other day. I had just finished a deployment as public affairs superintendent at the 407th Air Expeditionary Group at Ali Base. A few of the returning Airmen were lucky enough to have family members waiting for them. I was one of them. My wife was eagerly waiting for me. Others didn’t have waiting family members. They faced continued air travel that day or the next. Thankfully, their return didn’t go unnoticed.

Greeting each returning Airman were members of Operation Welcome Home-Maryland. Approximately 20 grateful Americans loudly cheered every time the terminal door opened and Airmen exited pushing carts full of baggage. The greeters’ enthusiasm encouraged the tired Airmen, bringing joyful tears to some. The greeters shook hands or fist bumped the Airmen and thanked them for their service. It reminded me of the send off Pease Greeters in Portsmouth, N.H., gave deploying Airmen in January. They sent us on our deployment with well wishes, and an abundance of free phone calls, chocolates and cookies.

To the members of OWH-MD and Pease Greeters, thank you for your dedicated support to deploying and returning Airmen, Soldiers, Marines, Sailors and Department of Defense civilians. It’s nice to see some Americans hadn’t forgotten the sacrifices of America’s military in operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom.

Dispatch from Ali Base–Unnamed Heroes

This week, we welcome 1st Lieutenant Korry Leverett to Air Force Live. 1stLt Leverett is replacing Master Sergeant Russ Petcoff as our voice from Ali Base, Iraq. MSgt Petcoff’s deployment is over and he has returned back to the D.C. area. We’d like to give a huge thanks to MSgt Petcoff for giving us some insight into deployed life and sharing the stories of the men and women serving at Ali Base.  1stLt Leverett joins us with a somber reminder of the ongoing dangers and fight in the deployed zones and a tribute to those who do not make it back home.

Unnamed Heroes
By 1st Lt. Korry Leverett
407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs

Recently I made the journey from Malmstrom AFB in Great Falls, Mont., to Ali Base, Iraq.  It was a lengthy process to say the least but upon arrival I became privy to all the amazing things Airmen are doing in the 120 degree heat, day and night.  As impressed as I was, and still am, I was swiftly reminded of the serious nature of the business we are in and the toll it takes on the men and women who sacrifice so much for our nation.

As evening approached and moonlight filled the sky at Ali Base, Iraq, 20 or so Airmen and Soldiers gathered at the tail end of a C-130 Hercules to pay their respects to three soldiers who had been killed the night before.  It was one of the most gut wrenching events of our short lives but we knew it had to be done.  Lining both sides of the aircraft in preparation for the transfer my heart raced.  The mood was somber and silence filled the night sky.  I didn’t know what to expect of myself and even more importantly I did not know what to expect of two of my young Airmen that were there with me.

“I need you two now,” said Chief Master Sgt. Gerald Delebreau, superintendent for the 407th Air Expeditionary Group at Ali Base, Iraq.  He was looking straight at my Airmen and requesting their immediate assistance with the transfer.  I could see they were a little surprised but they did not hesitate.  They had just been asked to assist in the transfer of a fallen comrade … no questions asked, they were there to support.

As the vehicle backed up to the procession and the transfer team began to unload the flag draped caskets our detail was called to attention and the order to present arms was given.  We stood eye to eye at attention, saluting as the team passed in front of us three times.  We were doing everything we could to pay the proper respect to those who paid the ultimate price.

As the procession ended and the detail was dismissed I could see out of the corner of my eye a large group of Airmen, many of whom worked on the flightline, off in the distance standing at attention.  I was moved by their presence … they had made every effort to cease operations for even just a moment in time to pay their respect.

As we drove back to our CHU (compartmentalized housing unit) late that evening neither my Airmen nor I could say a word.  I could tell they were deeply moved by the event and found out the next morning that neither slept well that evening.

We had no idea who the fallen soldiers were we just knew that we had to take a moment in time to honor those who sacrificed so much.  Though they were nameless to us they will live forever in our minds as American heroes.