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Vehicle Operator shares deployment experiences

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. John Starzyk
  • 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron
My career field has changed a lot over the years, and my colleagues and I have had several deployment experiences. I wanted to share those stories and what they mean to me.

In 2007 I deployed to Camp Arifjan, Kuwait. I was attached to the United States Army's 424th Medium Truck Detachment. Our mission was to perform combat convoy operations, known then as line-hauls, in Iraq and while this wasn't my first deployment, it was my first experience in what has become an almost "rite-of-passage" over the past decade in my career field; Air Force vehicle operators driving on some of the most dangerous roads on earth to get the joint services up North their supplies.

Our flight is comprised of active duty, Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. We embody the one-team, one-fight mentality unlike any other. We come together from different backgrounds; able to take the reins from one another without slipping up, and we're all capable of performing the most demanding of tasks when the mission dictates.

One of the most recent challenges we faced as a flight was to provide recovery transportation support for the KC-135 Stratotanker that crashed in northern Kyrgyzstan last month. Vehicle Operation's Flight Superintendent, Master Sgt. Joshua Michael explains that his flight was notified of the situation within hours of it happening and had a team of operators ready to go shortly thereafter.

As I get situated here, on my latest deployment at the Manas Transit Center, one thing stands out from everything else as I reflect back on my years; although our mission in Iraq is done and we're facing a withdrawal from Afghanistan in the coming year, the professionalism and adaptability of the Airmen from the 376th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron's Vehicle Operations Flight remains strong.

Staff Sergeant Steve MacNeil, an Air Force Reservist from Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., is assigned to the flight and has been serving in the Air Force for the past 13 years. From June 2004 to January 2005, MacNeil deployed to Iraq as a .50-caliber machine-gunner. His job was to provide convoy security, but as the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan evolved, so did the Airmen who supported them. Their focus wasn't just necessarily on the battlefield anymore; it shifted to encompass more training and education for the airmen prior to them deploying.

The Basic Combat Convoy Course prepares airmen for convoy duty. The course emphasizes weapons training and combat lifesaving skills such as requesting nine-line medevac support and starting intravenous flushes for casualties.

Despite the transitions that we're facing, MacNeil explained that his experiences from combat have given him a new perspective about life and a sense of pride that is unparalleled by anything else. When asked about his experiences from his convoy days and whether or not he enjoyed them, MacNeil replied, "I would go back and do gun trucks in a heartbeat!"

Staff Sgt. Joel Barrow is also a member of the flight and is from Joint Base Andrews, MD. Barrow contributes a lot more than meets the eye. He completed four years as a Marine before joining the Air Force. Barrow explains that he's felt like the odd man out at times because of his prior Marine Corps service.

"People approach me with caution...but they don't have to," Barrow said.

Although he admits he found it difficult to initially adapt to the Air Force culture, he eventually found his groove during his two tours to Iraq, while performing convoys. His experiences have helped him put things in perspective.

"No matter what branch you're in or what job you do, you can end up in combat," Barrow explained. This wasn't the job he imagined he'd be doing in the Air Force. His pride and admiration for military members is evident. Since he's arrived at the Manas Transit Center, Barrow has volunteered to drive in the Fallen Warrior program which transports service members killed in action.

Barrow isn't the only one. Although Staff Sgt. Kelcey UpShaw has only been in the Air Force for six years, she's currently on her third deployment and is also coming from Joint Base Andrews. Her previous deployments include line-haul convoys in Iraq in 2009. She was part of a provincial reconstruction team in Zabul Province, Afghanistan in 2011 at Forward Operating Base Smart. Convoys, foot patrols, kicking-in-doors--UpShaw has done it all! She says that she's enjoyed her experiences and relishes the fact that only she and a select group of other individuals have ever done this job.

That's our story. Our deployments have impacted our lives and made us who we are today.

"When you deploy, you deploy into a family!" UpShaw said.

[Upshaw is deployed out of Air Force District of Washington, Joint Base Andrews, Md., and is a native of Junction City, Kansas. Barrow is deployed out of Air Force District of Washington, Joint Base Andrews, Md., and is a native of Brooklyn, New York. Starzyk is deployed out of Pope Field, N.C. and is a native of Whiting, Indiana. Michaels deployed out of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz. and is a native of Dayton, Ohio. Macneil is deployed out of Luke Air Force Base, Ariz., and is a native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania]