Mission support, right now
By Col. Jeffrey Maxwell , 366th Missions Support Group commander
/ Published October 20, 2009
MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho -- At the risk of showing my age, in the early 1990's a rock band named Van Halen released a song titled, "Right Now." The message of the song emphasized the importance of living life in the moment, and the music video (when the entertainment industry actually did such a thing) encouraged you to be conscious of what's happening in the world around you. Obviously, after all these years, the song made an impression on me; but why do I mention it in this article? The answer is I remember the song's message, but I think about it in a different context.
Here in the 366th Fighter Wing, when we think about the operational tempo of the wing, we often focus on the deployment of an entire fighter squadron. I clearly understand the importance of this event because it's the very core of our wing's mission. The forward deployment of skilled operators, their awesome weapons systems, and the proud men and women who maintain the aircraft in order to project combat airpower around the world is truly an impressive feat.
But independent of that singular activity, there are always between 200 and 300 dedicated mission support Gunfighters deployed in small teams all across Southwest Asia. They leave behind their friends and family to spend six months at small forward operating posts in Afghanistan, main bases in Iraq, Africa, and all points in between. Although their deployment is for 179 days, when you consider most have pre-deployment training and overlap time with their predecessor or replacement, their real time away from home is between seven and eight months. Plus, being part of career fields with shorter "dwell time," when they return to base, they spend about six months at home station, then prepare to deploy again. These are the exceptional Airmen I think about when I remember the theme of the song I mentioned above. I'd like to use this article to describe their heroic contributions to mission success.
To borrow a line from the song, right now there's a security forces Airman positioned outside the wire at a remote location. He's a trained counter-sniper, and he's carefully searching the surrounding area for an enemy shooter or any signs of insurgent activity.
Right now, his wingman, another defender is partnered with a military working dog, and they're searching a desert village for signs of hidden explosives or weapons caches. Their work will take weapons out of the hands of those who aim to injure or kill Airmen or friendly forces.
Right now, an explosive ordinance disposal, or EOD technician is assigned to an Army unit in Afghanistan. The young Airman is carefully studying an explosive device and preparing to neutralize it before it can detonate. The work he's doing is protecting the lives of coalition members and innocent civilians in the area.
Right now, a vehicle operator is driving a truck as part of a convoy on some of the most dangerous roads in the world. She may have traveled this route countless times, but there's no room for complacency or assumptions. She knows her vehicle may come under attack at any time. The expeditionary fighting skills and combat lifesaving training she received before deployment may be needed today, so she remains ever vigilant. By completing her task, precious logistics and other cargo will be delivered, thus enabling the broader Air Force mission to succeed.
Right now, a communications technician is repairing a complex data network. Once service is restored, real time video from airborne unmanned aerial vehicles can be relayed to ground based controllers or theater command and control centers. The Hellfire missiles onboard these UAV's will strike their intended targets because the delivery of information has been assured.
Right now, a contracting officer is working with an Army Provincial Reconstruction Team to improve the lives of Afghans. The Airman is finalizing a series of contracts that will build schools, dig water wells and pave roads for Afghan citizens. The basic standards of living that we take for granted here in the United States are now being extended to remote locations around the world, thanks to the expertise of our Airmen.
Right now, a force support specialist is performing one of the toughest duties in his career field. A U.S. Army Soldier has been killed in action, and the Airman is coordinating with the Department of the Army to notify the next of kin. Although the casualty didn't affect a member of the Air Force, we are the lead in the Department of Defense for casualty affairs. After notification has been arranged, the Airman will organize an Honor Guard detail to conduct the dignified transfer of remains as the Soldier's body is shipped home. A moving and emotionally charged final salute will be rendered as a fallen hero returns to his family.
Right now, a food service specialist is ensuring a hot meal is available for the Airmen on base. Although some may downplay their importance, these dedicated professionals play a huge role in the success of our mission. Having been deployed to areas that didn't benefit from their services, I am extremely grateful when they're at my location.
These are just a few examples of some of the important work being done by mission support Gunfighters around the world. There are many more specialties, and many more stories, but I could only highlight a few. With all these examples, and more, I truly believe our Gunfighters personify the Airman's creed ... they answered their Nation's call, remaining faithful to a proud heritage as guardians of freedom and justice, while serving as their Nation's sword and shield. I greatly appreciate their tireless service. And I can say, right now, I'm extremely proud to be their commander.