Tag Archives: Middle East

Never stop trying

By Master Sgt. Sonya L. Couture
438th Air Expeditionary Wing

As Sept. 11 approaches, I find myself once again in Afghanistan – this time for a year. This mission is different from the last. Instead of supporting missions to “seek out and destroy the enemy,” I am here to train members of the Afghan Air Force on how to do my job, Aircrew Flight Equipment. I’m also teaching them how to manage their people and resources as well as how to solve problems on their own. I assure you, it’s not an easy task with their lack of classroom education and cultural differences.

Thinking back on where I was and what I was doing on 9/11, I’m reminded of the pain and anger I felt at such a senseless act. On 9/11, I saw every one of “them” as the enemy. My anger was boiling over and I wanted all of them eradicated from this earth. I’m sure many others felt the same way as they watched the horrors unfold on the news, replayed repeatedly. What came to mind later as I calmed down were the millions of innocent men, women and children who had nothing to do with these acts of terrorism. I slowly began to realize that 9/11 was not the work of all the people who are Muslim or from the Middle East, but the work of small extremist groups. I reserved my anger for the ones responsible, the factions and groups of extremist Muslims who hate Americans and wish to see us die. I consciously decided it was not right to judge them all on the actions of a few.

However, on April 27 this year, nine of my friends and coworkers were killed by one of the Afghans we were training. It was by far the single, most horrifying experience of my life. My reaction of rage and disbelief was very similar to my feelings on 9/11. I felt an overwhelming anger that sickened me. Why did my friends have to die so senselessly? I felt myself looking at every Afghan I saw with pure hatred.

After the shootings, I struggled to regain my enthusiasm for what I was doing here. How could I help these people, not knowing if their secret agenda was to kill me? On my first day back to work it was clear that “my” Afghans had no such intentions toward me. The sadness and pain in their eyes told me what I needed to know. They feared I would hate them for their fellow comrade’s actions and decide to no longer help them. As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t hold it against them. These men didn’t kill my friends. They were trying their best to do what any of us would want; to make a better life for themselves, their family and their country.

Weeks later during a conversation with my Afghan interpreter, I asked him if he thought his country would ever be able to get rid of the Taliban, Al-Qaeda and the war lords who ravage the country. Were we here for nothing, wasting our time and money? He asked me if the U.S. has ever been able to get rid of all its “bad guys”; those who rob, rape, and murder?

“No”, I said. “Of course not, but we will always keep trying to make it better.”
“That’s all we are trying to do as well,” he responded. His simple statement stuck with me. They should have the chance to try and make a better world for themselves, for the good men who are weak to become strong and capable of fighting the evil men.

I see the innocent children smiling and waving excitedly giving us the “thumbs up” as we convoy down the dirty streets of Kabul. We are hope to them and their future. I visit injured children in the hospital and absorb some of their positive, radiant energy they each have despite their injuries and constant struggles. These kids deserve to have a better life. The men I am training are trying to make this a better place for their families, the same thing we strive for every day and I am proud to be a part of it.

On Sept. 11, on an Afghan Air Force base, we will be reading the names of the 3,000-plus victims who died on that day and raising our flag in their honor. Who would have ever thought we would get to this point? As we pay tribute and honor to those who lost their lives on that day, let us not forget how blessed we are to be citizens of the United States. It is by the grace of God that we did not find ourselves born into a country such as Afghanistan where life is harder and more uncertain than we could ever imagine.

In February next year, I will be on my way home to my family. I will leave this country behind and wish them well in their endeavors to become a better, stronger country. Nothing can change what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, nor bring back the loved ones, family and friends who were lost then or during the war that followed. All we can do is continue to honor their memory, to never forget and to keep fighting for something more; a better world so this never happens again. We will never be able to wipe out all of the “bad guys” in this world….but that doesn’t mean we should ever stop trying.

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)