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Iraqi Freedom deployments help Airmen understand war

by Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
416th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs


3/28/2005 - KARSHI-KHANABAD AIR BASE, Uzbekistan (AFPN) -- For Tech. Sgt. Aaron Otte and Staff Sgt. Ron Beard, both security forces Airmen assigned to the 416th Expeditionary Mission Support Squadron security forces flight and deployed here from Hill Air Force Base, Utah, supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom on past deployments is something they said they will never forget.

"There are a lot of improvements that never seem to make the news reports," Sergeant Otte said.

Those improvements, he said, include progress in reconstruction, establishment of a sovereign government and the overall nature of the operation.

Sergeants Otte and Beard said the improvements and progress are the "truth" about what Airmen, Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and others supporting OIF have done and continue to do every day. They said it also has spawned an evolution in their career field, the Air Force and the military.

"I believe we have accomplished great heights during OIF that have echoed democracy throughout the Middle East," said Sergeant Beard.

Sergeant Beard's job here is to provide protection on fly-away security missions, like he did in Iraq. The Air Force's fly-away security program protects aircrew and airplanes -- usually C-130 Hercules -- in forward-deployed areas during the delivery of cargo and people to the frontlines of a military operation.

"In the past, security forces rarely had the opportunity to go outside the wire and take on an offensive role," Sergeant Beard said. "The security forces field has evolved from the old air base defense days to the vastly versatile force we see today.

"During operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, security forces members conduct joint operations with Army and Marine patrols, (conduct) joint patrols with host nation military personnel, provide security escorts for special missions and also (provide) the fly-away security for Air Force aircraft flying into hostile territory."

Having gone to places such as Iraq, Afghanistan, many other countries around Southwest Asia, the Horn of Africa and now Uzbekistan, Sergeant Beard said it has been a privilege to serve his country in many places in Asia and Africa. However, Iraq is where he knew life would teach him a few lessons, he said.

Sergeant Beard said he remembers "incoming mortars" during a C-130 mission into a base in Iraq while cargo was being unloaded from the plane.

"I remember the flightline people yelling for us to head for the bunkers, but the pilot had already started engines," he said. "Let's just say we got the heck out of there. I believe that was a little better idea than being crouched in a bunker at the moment. I remember looking out the window as we took off and seeing smoke clouds from the mortar strikes."

After they were safe in the air, he thought about the brave men and women who serve.

"The men and women of our military fighting in OIF have sacrificed their lives for the price of freedom and to secure a future for our country and for Iraq," he said. "No mortars are going to stop that from happening in Iraq from what I can see from then until now."

Sergeant Otte served as a logistics noncommissioned officer for his security forces unit at Kirkuk Air Base, Iraq, from Oct. 2003 to March 2004. He also recalled the dangers he faced there, while knowing he was in a place where the "spark of freedom" was becoming more than a campfire.

"One day while working in the base defense operations center, (we) were contacted by a unit from another service requesting a 'drop arm' barrier for an off-base safe house," Sergeant Otte said. "We had an extra one and were able to give it to them. They also asked if we could deliver it."

He said they quickly put together a small convoy and headed out into the city of Kirkuk.

"I was riding in the back seat of an armored (Humvee) with my rifle pointed out the window," Sergeant Otte said. "The weapon was loaded with a round in the chamber and the selector on fire. I was scanning for hostile forces and possible improvised explosive devices while poised to engage if the situation arose."

What he saw instead, he said, was children having fun playing in rubble and the smiling faces of men and women who were waving at them.

"When we stopped to deliver our load, the rear security team was mobbed by local children who wanted to say 'hello' and give high-fives," Sergeant Otte said. "The official outcome of that mission was the added security for the safe house. For me, it was the ability to see, with my own eyes, the joyful faces of the children who no longer had to live in fear.

"It was seeing the relief and happiness of the people despite the destruction caused by the war," he said. "Is what we are doing worth it there? I can honestly say, in my opinion, the answer is 'yes.'"

Sergeant Otte said his work in Uzbekistan for OEF is different than what he did in Iraq, but he said, overall, it is what has to be done.

"We are now in locations we never believed we would ever be in -- like Uzbekistan for instance," he said. "We are doing missions we never expected to do. We also are called upon to do this with more scrutiny than ever imagined.

"We now have the opportunity to show ourselves and the world why we are the best and most professional military force in the world," Sergeant Otte said. "Operation Iraqi Freedom taught me that, and I carry it with me on this deployment and anywhere else I go to support the global war on terrorism."





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