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Iraqi pollsters receive airlift help

by Master Sgt. Randy L. Mitchell
447th Air Expeditionary Group

10/20/2005 - SATHER AIR BASE, Iraq -- When Iraq took its next step toward democracy -- voting on a constitution -- Airmen and Marines helped ensure the process worked.

That included getting 1,320 Iraqi poll workers safely to and from Baghdad International Airport to their polling stations around the country. It was a job that lasted until Oct. 19.

“I volunteered for this deployment because I believed in the mission and wanted to do my part,” Capt. Robert Farkas said. He is the aerial port flight commander with the 447th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron here.

The aerial port flight worked with Marines from the 2nd Marine Expeditionary Force headquarters group to move the poll workers on 10 missions over two days, including two on Iraqi Air Force C-130 Hercules.

The captain said working on the flightline moving U.S. and coalition troops and cargo to the field has been a very rewarding experience since day one of his deployment.

“But when the call came from the Marines for help in uploading Iraqi poll workers in support of the (constitution) referendum, I was overwhelmed with excitement knowing we could make a difference,” he said.

The difference was evident because getting poll workers safely to their site enable Iraqi voters to express their will.

Captain Farkas and his flight set up communications, office space and lodging for the eight Marine they helped. And he made sure the poll workers got to their stations on time, squadron commander Lt. Col. John Foden III said.

“It has been nothing short of awesome to witness this squadron’s hands-on leadership and contributions to Iraqi history-in-the-making,” the colonel said.

The aerial port flight provided the Marines key flight information updates to coincide with the logistics of ferrying the poll workers on buses to the flightline, Captain Farkas said.

“It was a wonderful experience to see the faces and smiles from the Iraqis as they departed the buses and boarded the aircraft,” the captain said. “They were happy. But I could tell they were also very nervous.”

For most, if not all, it was probably their first flight on an aircraft. So aerial port members buckled the Iraqis in and gave them hearing protection and water.

“Everyone on the plane was all smiles,” Captain Farkas said. “I thought to myself how each one of them was risking their life -- and possibly those of their families -- by taking part in the voting process.”

The emotion was most evident when some poll workers boarded an Iraqi Air Force C-130 -- where an Iraqi flag hung just inside the cargo bay. The captain said the Iraqi crewmembers were visibly excited to be taking a lead role in an effort that was 10 months in the making. Iraq elected a government in January.

When the elections ended Oct. 15, Airmen and Marines helped move the poll workers back to Baghdad. Sandstorms caused some delays, but all returned safely by Oct.19.

“In all my experience uploading aircraft, I’ll remember these missions for the rest of my life -- knowing I played an important role in helping a country in build a democracy,” Captain Farkas said.

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