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Security forces Airmen reflect on time at Camp Bucca

by Staff Sgt. Shaun Emery
386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

1/4/2010 - CAMP BUCCA, Iraq (AFNS) -- Following the deactivation of the 887th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Airmen from the 820th Security Forces Group, Moody Air Force Base, Ga., finally said goodbye to their home away from home for the past three years.

Since its introduction in March 2004 to its deactivation Dec. 3, 887th ESFS security forces Airmen have overcame adversity, adapted to an ever-changing mission and forged strong relationships with the Iraqi people.

According to Staff Sgt. Charles Carpenter, 887th ESFS technologies NCO in charge, it was fitting that 822nd Security Forces Squadron was deployed to Camp Bucca during the deactivation. When the 820th ESG took on the Army mission, the 822nd SFS was the first on the ground.

"The 822nd started the mission here," he said. "We landed, got set up and started patrolling. Now we get to close it. It's a great feeling to see it all come full circle."

The 882nd SFS is one of three squadrons that make up the 820th ESG, along with the 823rd SFS and the 824th SFS. When a squadron redeployed back to Moody AFB, another was ready to take its place.

Many of the Airmen standing in formation during the ceremony were hardened veterans of Camp Bucca, while some were saying goodbye for first time and the last time.

"It feels good to see the ending," said Tech. Sgt. Billy Setliff, 887th ESFS training NCOIC, "although it's a little bittersweet and sad. Over the last three years, deploying to the same location, build friendships and taking ownership of the mission, we can finally see the end product. But I'm definitely going to miss it a bit."

Sergeant Setliff was part of that first rotation to Camp Bucca. During his multiple deployments there he served as a squad leader flight sergeant. He used that experience to guide many of the Airmen during their first deployment, first joint-task and the first time outside their comfort zone.

"I believe this experience has made them all stronger," said Sergeant Setliff. "It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and a security forces milestone for us, to be in the fight. It's an experience they can build upon and take into their next joint assignment and ultimately become better security forces Airmen."

Master Sgt. Dean Mays, 887th ESFS operations NCOIC, is another Camp Bucca veteran and was part of the advanced echelon team in 2004. He said the squadron met some bumps in the road at first, but they were soon smoothed out and the 887th ESFS ran like clockwork. Early on the squadron was involved in numerous precision engagement missions. They cleared routes of IEDs and transported detainees in and out of Camp Bucca.

One of those bumps was figuring out how to work side-by-side with the Army, bridging the operational gap between services.

"Coming in with the Air Force taking the outside the wire mission, which is traditionally an Army mission, there were some issues," explained Sergeant Setliff. "Over the course of a couple deployments the relationship got better. By the end they wanted to keep us on board, and I'm sure they would have kept us longer if they had the chance."

Along with the Army, security forces members took time to build successful partnerships with Iraqi security forces and the local population.

"The partnership is strong now," said Sergeant Mays. The ISF conducts its own operations. We report information to them, but they're clearing their own areas and taking control of their own country."

By conducting theater internment facility visitation operations and providing security for CivMil projects the 887th ESFS members were able to forge another important relationship; one with the Iraqi people.

At one time, more than 3,000 visitors passed through the TIF on a weekly basis. The 887th ESFS processed more than 140,000 visitors last year alone.

"We had people traveling from Bagdad and Kirkuk to visit family members," said Sergeant Setliff. "Our Airmen did an excellent job bringing people in and making them feel at home while visiting loved ones during a difficult time. It was not uncommon to see children hugging Airmen, being friendly and affectionate. It goes to show the level of professionalism our Airmen have."

During their time in Iraq the 887th ESFS members also witnessed the completion of a new water treatment facility and a new school.

"Seeing the faces of the children when they opened the new school was great," said Sergeant Mays. "They finally had facility they could be proud of."

During the squadron's deactivation ceremony, Col. John Williams, 586th Air Expeditionary Group commander, the 887th ESFS's parent group, said he was proud of the work accomplished by the Airmen at Camp Bucca.

"They came to serve their nation in a time of war," he said. "They did knowing the hazards and knowing what was at stake."

While it did not come easy, the success of the mission came through the blood, sweat and relentless efforts of more than 3,000 Airmen from the 820th ESG who were finally able to say goodbye to their home away from home.

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