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Military Appreciation Month: Spotlight on an Airman Week 5

Warrior of the Week: Senior Airman Kelly McGrathby the 376th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

Editor’s note: May is Military Appreciation Month, and we’ll highlight a different Airman and his or her job once per week for this month. We’re truly grateful for the hard work each Airman puts forth each day, and every job — big or small – contributes to the U.S. Air Force being the best Air Force in the world. Is there a military member you appreciate? Tell us in the comments below.

Meet the Transit Center at Manas Warrior of the Week: Senior Airman Kelly McGrath, a contracting officer from the 376th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron. McGrath is deployed from 92nd CONS at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash., and is a self proclaimed “military brat” who hails from Livingston, Texas.

What do you do on a daily basis at the Transit Center at Manas?
I’m a contingency contracting officer for our one-person commodities flight. It’s my responsibility to oversee the government purchase card program for the transit center. I also support and procure entertainment contracts and procure all commodities as needed by our many customers.

What do you enjoy about being at the Transit Center at Manas?
What I enjoy most about TCM is that I’m in a completely different country and I get to experience a new culture. I also get the opportunity to meet new people. This is my first deployment, so I also like that I’m getting to be part of a very unique experience in helping to shut down the base here.

Why did you choose to serve in the military?
I was at a point in my life that I felt like I was just spinning my wheels and not getting anywhere fast. So, something drastic needed to change. I always knew the military was an option for me coming from an Air Force military family background, but I didn’t give it much consideration in the past. Initially, I thought I would never serve, but it’s funny how life goes. Now that I’m in the Air Force, I wish I would have decided to join sooner.

How do you feel about your contributions to the Transit Center at Manas mission and current operations in the AOR?
I feel like I’m making a daily impact on the mission through all of the purchases I make for my customers as well as the contractual and shipping issues that I work through on a daily basis. It’s been a very rewarding experience being a one-woman show for the commodities flight, and aiding my customers in meeting their purchasing requirements.

Time at the Transit Center at Manas:
4 months and 3 weeks

Time in Air Force:
3 years and 2 months

Greatest accomplishment:
Receiving the 2013 Air Mobility Command Contracting Airman of the Year Award.

Goals you want to achieve or meet while at the Transit Center at Manas:
I wanted to experience the local culture and make an impact by spending time at many of the local orphanages and the American Kant Corner School. I also would like to bench press 150 lbs. by the time I leave Manas. I’m current lifting 135 lbs. so I’m on my way.

Hobbies:
Reading, sewing, quilting, arts and crafts, cooking/baking, exercising (weight lifting and boxing/kick-boxing), photography and traveling.

Your best habit:
My attention to detail.

Favorite quote:
“Your time is limited, so don’t waste it living someone else’s life. Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” – Steve Jobs

Favorite movies:
Beauty and the Beast, Wall-E, Star Wars, Star Trek, Wreck-It Ralph, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and Twilight.

Who is your favorite mentor and what did you learn from him/her:
My parents. They’ve always supported me in everything I do and pushed me to better myself. They helped shape me into the person I am today. I couldn’t have asked for any two better role models and mentors in my life.

If you could spend one hour with any person, who would it be and why:
It would be my grandpa. He passed away when I was about 4 years old, so I didn’t get to really know him and have him be a part of my life. What little I remember of him he was a great loving grandpa and his time here was too short.

PHOTO: Senior Airman Kelly McGrath, 376th Expeditionary Contracting Squadron contingency contracting officer, writes a contract for a customer at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, March 22, 2014. McGrath’s responsibilities include overseeing the Government Purchase Card program here and supporting and procuring all commodities need by customers as well as entertainment contracts for the Transit Center and Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman George Goslin/Released)

Manas sentinels pay respect to fallen warriors

Dawn treading: KC-135 takeoffs and landings at dawnBy Lt. Col. Panos Bakogiannis
466th Air Expeditionary Group

It is overcast this early morning at Manas, but familiar. I’m joining other comrades-in-arms to pay respects to a few Fallen Warriors.

I felt this same way years ago while standing in formation as a first lieutenant anxiously waiting for my first Honor Guard detail at Bourne National Cemetery, Mass. It was a moment that connected me directly to our calling, a powerful sense of commitment and duty that framed my expectations for service afterwards. Above all, I was now part of an inseparable bond with an Airman who served years before me, and now his responsibility was mine and all who wear the uniform.

The morning air is already chilly, just like a late summer or early fall evening, the wind a bit crisp and surprising as it blows past me and sways the trees at the bus stop.

Fellow military members and I boarded buses and headed to the flightline, along with other vehicles with their hazard lights on. The vehicles line up to to pass through the serpentine guard lanes. We pass refueling aircraft from another era, KC-135s, designed with paper, pencils, and slide rules and flying before I was born, now silent sentinels watching the motorcade pass by. No telling how many conflicts or such formations they have witnessed, and their mute stares won’t give up any secrets either.

We pull up to a modern C-17 cargo plane, taking on fuel, with more vehicles surrounding it, hazards on. Airmen are moving around, checking lines and speaking to aircrew. The flightline is a magical and ethereal place at night, especially as we line up in a V formation at the tail end of the C-17.

Off in the distance is the horizon, blue and deep, and the pathway for our three warriors heading home to loved ones for one final reunion.

Three special purpose utility vehicles, each carrying one passenger, are lined up underneath the massive tail of this plane, its cargo lights from within its hold and underneath its massive whale tail illuminating the detail unfolding.

As the chaplain asks us to pray, a light mist drizzles slowly, and the massive grey hulk now shimmers with a moist sheen. The smell of fuel, exhaust, and brake lines stay present, and in its own right are the perfect incense for the moment.

“TENCH-HUT! PRESENT-ARMS!”

We salute three times, as the Honor Guard purposefully moves our warriors onboard for home.

Through the cold mist, they remain covered in their sleep by our flag, the canton of blue over their hearts. It has been so for over 237 years as it is right now. The chill felt earlier is still there, but now somewhat welcomed as we are dismissed.

And once again, we board vehicles with hazards on, lined up, and pass by the same cold sentinels as before, still as silent and brooding, awaiting their next mission.

The plane slowly yet loudly powers up, preparing to taxi and launch for home. We pass through the gates, guards checking ID cards and waving us through. The flightline is now behind us, and with our brothers safely on board, we return to where we began. At a quiet bus stop, with a slight drizzle, a cool breeze, and a quiet walk back to our dorms.

For a brief moment, I was once again that first lieutenant, standing proud knowing I was with my fellow warriors, all united in a common cause – sending Fallen Warriors home.

May we never forget.

PHOTO: A KC-135 Stratotanker prepares to land in the early morning sunrise at Transit Center at Manas, Kyrgyzstan, Aug. 22, 2013. Flight operations run seven days a week at the transit center to meet mission demands providing support for operations in Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Robert Barnett)