Commentary: Sustaining Afghanistan, part 1

By PATRIC E. MILLER
Air Force Sustainment Center, Ogden Air Logistics Complex
April 6, 2017

(Editor’s notes: This is the first of a two-part commentary. Part 2 will appear in the April 13 Hilltop Times.)

I miss the sound of jets. I hear the helicopters flying in and out of the camp at all hours of day and night. The sound makes me think mission, but I miss the sound of freedom. 

The team that prepares you to deploy does a good job of describing what it will be like when you hit the ground in Afghanistan. The smell is indescribable and it stays with you. The environment is similar to my home station in Utah. People think of Afghanistan and believe it is hot. They also think Afghanistan is Middle East, but it is actually southwest Asia. 

In northern Afghanistan, Kabul specifically, the terrain is mountainous. It does get warm, but it snows in the winter months.

The accommodations are what you would expect. I was fortunate enough to have a hard billet and indoor bathrooms. While traveling, I stayed in most forms of cover to include tents. My barracks room is 8 feet by 16 feet, and we bunk two to a room. 

Thanks to technology, I am able to occasionally video chat with my family. It is a lot different than when I deployed to other operations in the Area of Responsibility or AOR. This is the first time I deployed without my home station squadron.

Keeping up with the family keeps me grounded.  I am engaged in a conversation about the garage – any other time, this would be just normal chatter. Being deployed, it means more to me because I’m focused on planning – planning to go home safely and planning to resume sorely missed, mundane activities.

A thunderous roar outside causes me to hit the deck. My family on the video chat hears and begins to panic. To avoid increasing their stress level, I do not share that this is a normal event for us.

That one was closer. The sound is so booming that it shakes the dust from the tiny windowsill in my room. I let the family know I am alright and the sounds of sirens indicate we go in to lock-down. Lock-down means we are frozen in place.

I excuse myself from the video chat and begin to make phone calls. We have protocols in place to ensure we can do well checks. Each time I pray that we can reach all 120 members of the team from eight nations and all branches of service. Everyone is safe…this time.

Camaraderie here is high. The Combined Security Transition Command, Afghanistan leads Camp Resolute Support, Camp RS. CSTC-A is charged with training, advising, and assisting Afghan security.

The mission here is to help the Afghans with sustainment of their own democratic nation and we work primarily to support the Ministries of Defense and Interior.

My director is a Colonel in the U.S. Army and one of the finest officers I have ever encountered. Our unit is referred to as 5.1 and our contribution to the big mission is logistics. We are logisticians. As her deputy, we have a fantastic synergy and we are able to divide and conquer well.

Our team provides logistical support for all of the Afghan National Army and National Police – sustainment, security, Special Forces, transportation, supply, maintenance, and arming Afghans with defense tools. Every day, I interface with the Afghan people, Ministry of Defense, and other Americans to collaborate on achieving the long-term mission. 

Active duty, reservists, guardsmen, and civilians make our team dynamic. Located in downtown Kabul, the team had rapid turnover during my one-year deployment.

The Afghans we work with are truly kind people. Our Afghan translator is a true professional and teaches me a lot about tradition, protocols, and how to stay safe.

She remains positive with one exception. She speaks of the Taliban in fluent English with intermittent expletives as she narrates, and relives, how they murdered her father and brother. 

Just like any other position I have or will hold in my career, I connect to the people. We work seven days a week, between 12 and 16 hours a day. Holidays, weekends, and special occasions are normal workdays for us. Our enemies do not take time off, nor do we. 

I see jets occasionally and I recognize the tail flash of a couple F-16s with Hill AFB markings. It makes me miss home, but I do not focus on that.

Those momentary brain vacations cause impediments to one’s alertness. I stay focused on the mission.

When people from back home ask, “Why did you volunteer?” I usually tell them how I served in Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Kuwait, Oman, and Qatar along with other parts of the world during different campaigns. 

I tell them how my desire to serve my country is enduring. I tell them the only thing that has changed is my uniform. 

As I dress every morning, I strap my weapon on to my Operational Camouflage Pattern uniform. I am an American Airman, Wingman, Leader, Warrior. I bleed blue. I am a Department of the Air Force civilian.

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