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‘There I was...’ The quiet experts

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. John Glassell
  • 6th Maintenance Group deputy commander
Deployments are a part of every Airman's life, from the day they in-process at their first duty station until the day they leave the Air Force. At one point or another, virtually every Airman is on, returning from or preparing for a deployment. Last year, I joined the ranks of these deployed Airmen.

I deployed to an organization that impacts the day-to-day operations in the area of responsibility last August. This organization, Air Force Central Command, was my home for the next six months, where I would act as the director of logistics forward staff.

The logistics forward staff is the deployed arm of the AFCENT logistics staff. They work with the AFCENT logistics staff at Shaw Air Force Base, S.C., to coordinate the Air Force logistics operations for the area of responsibility. Their staff consisted of Airmen from every logistics function, from air transportation and logistics planners to aircraft maintenance and vehicle operations.

Day-to-day tasks ranged from coordinating supply parts and repair actions for broken aircraft, ensuring the correct type and amount of munitions, to working with units to shut down operations and move out of Iraq. The people on the logistics forward staff were the experts who coordinated with both in-theater units and home station units.

The most interesting thing about the deployment wasn't the mission but rather the people. Unlike most Airmen who deploy as part of a unit or team, these 25 folks deployed individually from bases around the world. Most did not know each other or the personnel with whom they would be working until they arrived. Every month, as deployments ended, two or three of these positions swapped out. The new "experts" received only a basic base orientation, a few days of turnover and then, without many people noticing, picked up where their predecessors left off without interruption or loss of production. Problems got solved, issues were resolved and the war effort continued without missing a beat.

While deployed with those Airmen, I watched them grow-- increasing their personal knowledge, expanding professional skills and gaining confidence while performing jobs essential to the success of the mission.

The air transportation career field is made up of several areas which include passenger service, cargo processing and load planning. I had the privilege of working with a technical sergeant who had a strong background in passenger service, but limited cargo processing experience. By the end of her rotation, she not only had expanded her cargo processing skills, but she became such a valuable asset to the team, she was requested by name to attend planning meetings. In the six short months of her deployment, she went from being unfamiliar with cargo processing to one of the "go-to" experts and gained invaluable career experience. Would she have gotten the same experience at home station? Possibly, but not at the same pace as she experienced deployed.

Being an aircraft maintenance officer and former C-130 crew chief, I know the U.S. Air Force has the finest maintainers in the world. During this deployment I watched an aircraft mechanic with an extensive background in F-15s and F-16s coordinate the parts and repairs for a C-130 aircraft involved in a mid-air collision. This "fighter" guy was fixing a "heavy" aircraft and learned the C-130 lingo well enough to communicate from the repair team to the depot engineers. Over the course of four months, the aircraft went from a heavily damaged aircraft sitting at a forward operating base to flying home safely. Additional repairs were needed once it arrived at its home station, but the important part was that it was going home under its own power. No sooner had this aircraft recovery been completed when this mechanic started to lay the ground work for another, larger and more complicated aircraft recovery that would have to be completed by his successor.

These are just two examples of how our well-trained Airmen rose to the challenge and evolved as part of the AFCENT logistics forward staff. It was a privilege to work alongside them. They are the quiet experts. Few know who they are or where they are located, but everyone counts on their expertise and support.