Tag Archives: Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff

Air Force’s Global Hawk providing aerial images of Haiti

Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff is assigned to the Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs. This blog is the result of a Department of Defense Blogger’s Roundtable held Jan. 15 and discussed one aspect of Air Force Humanitarian Relief to Haiti.

WASHINGTON – An Air Force RQ-4 Global Hawk is providing imagery to determine the extent of damage to earthquake-stricken Haiti and usability of its infrastructure, said the vice commander of the 480th Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance Wing.

Global Hawk aerial view of Haiti devastation

“A lot of images of destroyed buildings,” said Col. Bradley G. Butz, 480th ISR vice commander. They are looking at images of airports to find airfields to land aircraft. The image quality and clarity is good enough whether or not an airfield can accept aircraft, the colonel added.

“We’ve got pretty good coverage of the entire country of Haiti,” Colonel Butz said.

The Global Hawk is a high-altitude, long-endurance UAS with an integrated sensor suite that provides worldwide ISR capability.

The 480th ISR, based at Langley Air Force Base, Va., is providing its images to U.S. Southern Command officials for use by whomever needs the images, Colonel Butz said. The objective is mass distribution to people and organizations that need the images to support relief and recovery operations, he added.

These images can help determine the level of destruction since aerial images of Haiti exist from June 2009. Comparing the June 2009 and the January 2010 can give an indication of the extent of the disaster. Without context “we just don’t know the impact,” the colonel said.

In addition, the Global Hawk provides assistance to soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division who are deploying to Haiti. The Global Hawk is providing images of where the Soldiers are deploying to help them prepare for their mission, Colonel Butz said.

The Global Hawk flew 14 hours Jan. 14, providing between 400-700 images, the colonel said. It is flying daily out of Naval Air Station Patuxent River, Md. The colonel said the Global Hawk will continue providing Haitian overflight support as long as the president requests.

This is the first use of the Global Hawk in a disaster relief mission in the Caribbean, according to the colonel.

Photo cutline: An aerial view of the damaged National Cathedral in Haiti by a U.S. Air Force Global Hawk unmanned aircraft system Jan. 14. Aerial images are providing U.S. military planners valuable situation awareness as they coordinate U.S. military support to the Haiti relief effort. (Release by U.S. Southern Command)

Pentagon Airman reflects on three Afghanistan stories

The holiday season is upon us. Everyone is getting ready for their various religious and secular activities. The vast majority of American will be spending the time with family and friends. Not all.

Many Airmen are deployed around the world, far from their loved ones.

Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan, International Security Assistance Force Joint

Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1-40 Cavalry Squadron sleep after devouring Thanksgiving chow at Camp Clark, Afghanistan Nov. 26. The soldiers have been patrolling daily and helping train the Afghan National Army since their arrival to the camp approximately one month ago. (ISAF Joint Command photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan)
Soldiers from the U.S. Army's 1-40 Cavalry Squadron sleep after devouring Thanksgiving chow at Camp Clark, Afghanistan Nov. 26. The soldiers have been patrolling daily and helping train the Afghan National Army since their arrival to the camp approximately one month ago. (ISAF Joint Command photo by Tech. Sgt. Nathan Gallahan)

Command, Afghanistan, recently wrote a blog about spending the holidays deployed to Afghanistan. Someone in the White House must have liked it. Sergeant Gallahan’s “Holiday Cheer for the Heroes” post appears on The White House Blog. He writes how appreciative servicemembers are to receive support from the American public, whether through simple cards or video greetings.

Then there were the holiday cards and smiles. I didn’t anticipate that.

At each location I visited, there were all these cards and banners reassuring the soldiers America loved them, supported them and prayed for their safe return. I saw soldier upon soldier holding these cards up and showing their friends what amusing little anecdote was scribbled within. The only possessions these soldiers had were what they could carry on their back and holiday cards from school children from across our beautiful nation.

These letters, cards, candies, cookies … especially cookies … reach these guys and bring smiles to their faces when happiness in warzones is a rare commodity.

But these days, sending care packages via mail to such remote sites is really hard, especially since you need to know someone here before you can send anything (for security reasons, sending them to units or “any soldier” is no longer allowed). The Department of Defense has a site though, that allows you to send video messages to service members. It’s a great way to show support over the holidays and is a lot faster than mail, which can take a month or more, sometimes, to arrive here.

Congratulations, Sergeant Gallahan, on the honor!

Pararescue in Afghanistan

What’s it like for Airmen who are dedicated to saving the lives of others? Fortunately, I’ve never had to rely on the services of pararescuemen during my deployments to Afghanistan and Iraq. Squadron highlights capabilities during Afghan rescue mission gives a first-hand look at the Airmen of the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron of Camp Bastion, Afghanistan.

A soldier is wounded during a joint British and Afghanistan National Army

Pararescuemen receive an injured patient from coalition forces Dec. 8, 2009. The pararescuemen will administer medical care while in transit to a medical facility. The pararescuemen are assigned to the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)
Pararescuemen receive an injured patient from coalition forces Dec. 8, 2009. The pararescuemen will administer medical care while in transit to a medical facility. The pararescuemen are assigned to the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron deployed to Camp Bastion, Afghanistan. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

patrol in Helmand Province. Shot through both legs, his condition worsens while being cared for by the medics. It is time to call in the professionals to get him off the battlefield and to the hospital. The radios erupt with words the crews had been standing by for:


Rushing from their squadron tents and huts, located close to the flightline and their HH-60G Pave Hawk helicopters, the crews run to the waiting aircraft, strap in, start the engines and within minutes they are airborne on their way to the patient.

Time is of the essence and these Airmen from the 66th Expeditionary Rescue Squadron take it very seriously.

On board the helicopter, racing back to the base, the pararescuemen work as a team, tending to the patient. One handles all injuries below the waist, while the other takes care of any concerns above. They work quickly to bandage the wound on the left leg, preventing any further blood loss and verifying no nerve damage occurred.

Whiteman Airman survives IED blast

One thing I learned at the Indiana University School of Journalism and the Defense Information School is the danger of using a quote lead. The instructors warned against using them. They rarely work well to grab the reader’s attention, the instructors said.

Sometimes, they work.

Here’s one that grabbed my attention from Whiteman Airman recalls moment of terror:

“I don’t remember seeing a flash or hearing a boom. I just remember waking up in the turret with my head on fire.”

That is what Staff Sgt. Charles Holley recalled from the moment an improvised explosive device exploded and bathed his Humvee in fire last year in Tiqurit [sic], Iraq.

This excellent feature tells of an Airman’s actions following an improvised explosive device attack on the vehicle he served as gunner.

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)

Pentagon Airman: Air Force Family Week

This is Family Week in the Air Force, part of the greater Year of the Air Force Family.

Families are important to the success of the Air Force mission. I know it’s especially true for me when I deployed earlier this year to Iraq and when I deployed to Afghanistan in 2007. Knowing my wife was taking care of the home, paying the mortgage and bills (which she normally does anyway), cutting the grass, and maintaining the cars during my absence was a big relief. Fortunately, we don’t have children so she didn’t have that added responsibility. Many spouses of deployed Airmen do.

In some ways, I felt guilty when I deployed. I believe deploying was harder for my wife, Lisa, than for me. She had to do everything. Setting aside the fact I was in a war zone, I only had to worry about work or try to anticipate the next time the “D-FAC” (dining facility) was going to have tacos or chocolate pudding. The other facets of life back home were … well, back home. They were thousands of miles from where I was … waiting for Lisa to do them.

For Airmen with families, this is a great time to thank family members for the sacrifices they make to support our careers. Thank you, Lisa.

Military Family of the Year

The Air Force’s military family of the year – the Ojala family from Nellis Air Force Base, Nev. – was in Washington recently to attend the National Military Family Association’s Military Family of the Year ceremony.

Deployments have been a part of Ojala life. Since 9/11, Tech. Sgt. Thane Ojala has undergone six deployments. They speak from experience about coping with deployments. “Know your resources, such as key spouses,” said Master Sgt. Wayne Ojala, the superintendent of the Nellis’ Airman and Family Readiness Center.

“And take advantage of them,” added Tech. Sgt. Thane Ojala, a 99th Force Support Squadron food service accountant. “There are so many programs in place. You’re never in it alone.”

Even the Ojala children have advice for families when coping with deployments.

Don’t give up by looking at the negative, said 17-year-old Jari. “Look at the positive. Try new things.”

Katherine, 14, said writing has helped her cope with deployments. She added deployments do get easier.

Kalie, 13, said, “There are other families whose parents are gone. You’re never alone.”

Master Sergeant Ojala said if there was one word to describe his family it would be “resilient.”

“All of the kids have done a great job with deployments,” he said. He credited the children with helping him keep the household running and maintaining good spirits while his wife was deployed. The senior NCO said programs for deployed families at the Nellis AFRC helps him through the frequent separations from his wife. It’s also a way for the family to cope.

“Jari drags us to the gym pretty regularly,” Master Sergeant Ojala said. “It motivates me.”

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)

Pentagon Airman: Schools in Afghanistan, patrolling in Iraq

News media focus is on how Afghanistan is deteriorating. Coverage has centered onthe latest attack in that troubled land and the number of soldiers killed – as if every U.S. casualty is a Soldier.

At the risk of being a Pollyanna and focusing only on the good, there are good things happening in Afghanistan. U.S. and coalition troops are making a difference. The Air Force Link Web site recently posted stories highlighting the good happening.

Afghan men and women celebrate the opening of the Bibi Khala Girls' School, in Afghanistan's Zabul Province, Oct. 19, 2009. The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team provided the funds used to create the new school. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Timothy Taylor)

The Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team opened a school for girls in Qalat in south central Afghanistan. Staff Sgt. Angelique N. Smythe, 451st Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs, wrote about the school’s opening, Reconstruction team opens new girls’ school in Afghanistan.

The Bibi Khala Girls’ School has approximately 1,500 students. The PRT members built a new building with eight classrooms which will hold computer programming and biology classes, and contain chemistry laboratories. Lt. Col. Andy Veres, Zabul PRT commander, said Bibi Khala will be a “magnet school” for young women in the province.

Sergeant Smythe included a great quote from one of the interpreters about the effect the new school has on local Afghans.

“The teachers, principal, students and the governor were very excited,” said one interpreter. “The teachers couldn’t stop talking about this event. They were talking about the dark time of Taliban when they couldn’t go to school. Some of the teachers had tears in their eyes. Some of the girls asked if we were coming back that we bring more pencils, notebooks and things like that.”

The story also had a great quote from Ching Eikenberry about the importance of educating young Afghan women. She is the wife of U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, retired Army Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry.

“Why is education important? Because it is a key to another world,” she said. “You will be able to help your maleks [also malik, a tribal leader in Afghanistan], you may get a better job, you may get a better life and you may have an opportunity to travel around the world,” Ms. Eikenberry said. “But most importantly, you have the ability to help other people. When you’re educated, you have knowledge, you have confidence … and that brings the beauty out of you.”

The Zabul PRT also laid a foundation for a new high school for girls in Shajoy, Afghanistan. Tech. Sgt. Joseph Kapinos, U.S. Air Force Central combat camera team, wrote a story about the Oct. 26 event (American servicemembers in Afghanistan break ground for new high school). This is the first girls’ high school in Zabul province.

The Zabul governor said the ground breaking is momentous for his people.

Lt. Col. Andy Veres places one of the first rocks at a ground-breaking ceremony with Zabul's Provincial Governor Muhammad Ashraf Naseri Oct. 22, 2009, at Shajoy, Afghanistan. The placing of the rock symbolizes the beginning of constructions for the first high school in the province dedicated to educating females. Colonel Veres is the commander of the Zabul Provincial Reconstruction Team. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Angelita Lawrence)

“This is a very historical moment,” said Gov. Muhammad Ashraf Naseri. “This gives us an opportunity to educate all of our children, who are the future of Afghanistan. We Afghans are looking for a peaceful life, and education is how we will find it.”

The Zabul PRT civil affairs officer said this event shows a commitment by Zabul for the province’s future.

“The Taliban oppresses its people by keeping them primarily uneducated and illiterate,” said Army 1st Lt. Robert Smalls. “A town that has the opportunity to send its children, and especially its girls, to school, will shed some of that oppression off of them.

“Our hope is that this will further educate the people of this community, giving them the chance to make their community their own, free from any outside influences,” he added.

Shifting to Iraq, a new base security procedure is keeping servicemembers safe at Joint Base Balad. Staff Sgt. J.G. Buzanowski wrote a great story at Airmen patrol outside to protect inside. Airmen from 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron conduct patrols outside the base to ensure the base’s safety.

Senior Airman Michael Emerson scans a field during a force protection patrol Oct. 17, 2009, outside Joint Base Balad, Iraq. Members of the 532nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron patrol to provide a security presence intended to deter anyone who would do harm to the people who live and work at the base. Airman Emerson is assigned to the 532nd ESFS. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Michael B. Keller)

An Airman deployed from Andrews Air Force Base, Md., said the patrols also have an outside-the-wire effect on local Iraqis.

“They don’t want violence in their villages and homes, so if we’re friendly with them, they’re more likely to work with us,” said Tech. Sgt. Emmett Mack III, a squad leader. “We talk to the locals, and if they have needs that aren’t being met, we work with the Army teams who are handling that aspect of the mission. But our job helps them as well as us.”

A three-tour veteran of Iraq from Holloman Air Force Base, N.M., said the patrols help create a relationship with local Iraqis.

“We don’t get mortared nearly as much as we used to,” said Senior Airman Brendan Cunniff. “A lot of that is because of these patrols. (Locals) see us every day and if people know you, they’re less likely to want to see you get hurt.”

(Pentagon Airman is written by Master Sgt. Russell P. Petcoff, Secretary of the Air Force Public Affairs.)