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Military

Vehicle operators return home after teaming with Army

by Staff Sgt. Nathan Gallahan
92nd Air Refueling Wing Public Affairs


2/27/2006 - FAIRCHILD AIR FORCE BASE, Wash. (AFPN) -- Seven vehicle operators with the 92nd Logistics Readiness Squadron returned to work Feb. 21 after driving the war-ravaged roads of Iraq for nearly six months.

“We were the last medium to light (Air Force-operated) gun trucks solely responsible for providing security to convoys,” Staff Sgt. Scott Cunningham said.

They handed their gun-truck security mission over to an Army unit during the last month of their deployment. The Army will provide security while the Air Force will provide vehicle operators.

In order to accomplish the mission and work with the Army, Airmen had to integrate into Army units, which allowed some to see similarities in how the two organizations work. But, it has also presented them with some challenges.

“It was definitely different. It was eye-opening to work with another branch, to see how they work, just to have that experience,” Staff Sgt. Rick Sanders said.

Each branch of the U.S. military has its own fundamental differences. Over the course of history, each branch found its own way to maximize its capabilities, whether its primary stomping ground was land, sea or air. When Airmen stomp on the ground with the Army, they also get to see how they handle that responsibility.

“We had the opportunity to learn their way of life, their opinions on different procedures and their language and jargon,” said Tech. Sgt. Joe Guajardo.

They also witnessed firsthand how dangerous living life outside the wire can be.

“When an (improvised explosive device) went off five meters in front of my vehicle, it woke me up,” Sergeant Guajardo said. “This is the real deal, not some fantasy world. This is my job now.”

Some of the vehicle operators said they noticed how the Soldiers did as they were told without question and written regulations and procedures were set in stone. All agreed these core disciplines are critical to carrying out the mission and saving lives.

“You have to know your job and exactly what to do if something happens,” Sergeant Sanders said. “You can’t be out on the road joking around. You can’t be (doing) anything like that -- if you do, you could very easily die, no ifs, ands or buts about it.”

“And that’s where the training really paid off the most. It gets you in that mindset and it shows you how serious to take it,” Sergeant Cunningham said.

Although the vehicle operators entered the war trained in the art of convoy protection, they still had a long way to go to prove to the Soldiers they were fully capable of completing the mission.

“They thought we were ‘pretty boys’ and treated us a little hard at first thinking that we couldn’t do it, that we weren’t tough enough to do a job like that,” said Tech. Sgt. Shannon Johnson.

Time and successful missions proved to the Soldiers the Airmen had the discipline, training and courage to fight by their side. But it wasn’t easy.

“We took triple the number of IEDs in a set period of time, with fewer injuries than anyone else,” Sergeant Cunningham said. “After a time, (contractors) operating the convoy trucks and even the Army units were requesting Air Force gun truck escort security.”

“I’ve never worked harder in my life; I’ve never earned my paycheck more than during this deployment,” Sergeant Sanders said. “We worked so hard, for so many hours. I would have loved to only work 12-hour days -- that would have been great.”

As time went on, the Airmen and Soldiers were able to find equal ground and started to work as a single, cohesive unit, Sergeant Sanders said.

“After awhile they never looked at us as Air Force anymore, they thought of us as Army and we started to feel like we reverted back to the pre-1947 Army Air Corps,” Sergeant Johnson said.

“We go over there and that’s what we say we are, the Army Air Corps. That’s kind of one of our mottos because we’re working with them and going by their rules for the most part,” Sergeant Sanders said.

Airmen may start to feel history is repeating itself after experiencing “jointness” between the Army and the Air Force. He said some may even look forward to it.

“I think it’s a great thing that we are a focal point for changing the face of the Air Force," Sergeant Sanders said.



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