AL UDEID AIR BASE, Qatar --
Capt. Nicholas Cwiertniewski is the security officer in charge for the 379th Air Expeditionary Wing Host Nation Coordination Cell.
He is a nuclear missile operator stateside, but on his first deployment, his role in the HNCC involves any sort of U.S. and Qatari interaction off-base. From base access to Qatari-secured areas, port passes, driver’s licenses, and access to the airport in Doha for cargo pickup or personnel pickup to legal issues with Qatari police, he covers every aspect of those processes.
Luckily, his career field is “very checklist oriented.” With no experience to prepare for the unique situations that crop up when it comes to off-base issues, having a guide is key. For him, it’s all about trusting the process.
“I got lucky to be replacing a missile operator as well,” Cwiertniewski acknowledged. “He kind of set me up with templates and checklists for all the paperwork, he walked me through step by step, and then after that it's kind of been just trial and error. Some situations are going to be very unique, and no real checklist for them exists. At that point, you’re relying on the skills that you have in your head and hope you’re making good decisions.”
Flying by instinct has been the trend for his acclimation to a job he knew nothing about upon arrival.
“I didn't even know really what HNCC did,” he said. “As my predecessor was taking me to all the different offices and introducing new people, I would just try my best to soak it all in. Now, I've just been practicing, and whenever I struggle to remember something, I can just check back to those templates. For the most part, everything goes smoother when you follow a process, and our system sets us up for success.”
While those automated processes are familiar, the skillsets required for day-to-day interactions with his Qatari counterparts are very interpersonal. Cwiertniewski knows that all of the background work he’s doing during his deployment speaks to a larger goal of two countries working toward the success of mutual interests.
“We're here as guests in their space,” he emphasized. “So, it's navigating the waters of ‘We have a mission to do, and they have mission to do.’ If the two ever conflict, the goal becomes finding a middle ground and coming to a compromise. I like working with the Qataris a lot. I've learned a lot. And I do like the culture of sitting on couches and talking, then getting everything handled and having some coffee and tea.”
And with this also being his final deployment, he hopes the legacy he leaves for his replacement is lasting, in addition to the checklists.
“Our main goal is to build a good relationship or make sure that everything on the security end is flowing – that's what I can control,” he said. “I think you hope that someone would miss the work that you did and appreciate what you accomplished in the six months you were here. That would prove to me that what I did was good for the Qataris, and that I did my duty for the HNCC as well. So that's what I hope to achieve by the time I leave.”