A member of the U.S. Air Force for 14 years, I currently serve in the Reserves as an Air Transportation Craftsman (AFSC: 2T271). As a Technical Sergeant (E-6), my duties include loading airplanes and ensuring all branches of the military have mail, food, ordinance, ammunition and day-to-day items that enable war fighters to serve in peace time and during combat.
Deployed four times, two while working for FedEx Ground, my first two sites were located in Qatar during Operation Iraqi Freedom. There, I supported combat operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, rotating in new Humvees to ensure soldiers' safety. While deployed and working with the Crisis Response Group, I also loaded planes with items for humanitarian efforts, including the 2005 Pakistani earthquake. Within hours of the 7.6 magnitude quake, my team, with help from other U.S. military branches and NATO nations, loaded aid and mobile kitchens to be shipped overseas.
I spent my third deployment working alongside Special Operations in Bagram, the largest U.S. military base in Afghanistan. While I was there, Osama Bin Laden was killed and I braced my troops for retaliation, which came in the form of a rocket attack resulting in a near miss. In gratitude for my contributions, leadership and bravery in Bagram and Kandahar, I received two commendation medals and multiple coins of recognition.
In Bagram, my unit set USTRANSCOM records for the most poundage and passengers moved in a month, thanks to a March Madness-type competition I created to rank troops on safety, teamwork and timeliness. I used the same guidelines I would have used for my people at FedEx Ground. I even employed all my Excel skill wizardry. My unit did not experience a single accident that month — an impressive feat considering the high volume of cargo they moved. When my CO asked me how I came up with the competition, I referred to my management experience at FedEx Ground.
I returned in February 2014 from my fourth deployment to Kandahar, Afghanistan where I oversaw the Air Terminal Operations Center, including meeting various arriving planes, briefing crew members about load details, being present for cargo uploads and downloads, and coordinating airfield functions during the largest draw-down in military history. I was also selected to forward deploy to close the U.S./Australian FOB Tarin Kowt. While there, I worked closely with the Army and Special Operations to close the base two weeks ahead of scheduled retrograde.
One of my heaviest burdens was transporting fallen soldiers' remains out of the war zone. Informed of KIAs, I organized airlift returning the fallen heroes to their families within 48 hours. Particularly hard for me was seeing faces in the media that matched the names of the soldiers I was transporting.
While I am appreciative of the support I received during my many dangerous deployments, I feel more could be done for military members' families back in the states. People don't realize what's going on in the life of a soldier's family back home. It's out of sight, out of mind.
Transitioning back to civilian life has had its rough moments. After my third deployment, I returned to find my pregnant wife on bed rest due to a risk of premature labor, the result of stress brought on by the separation during the deployment and attacks that occurred when she and I were on the telephone together. My daughter was born two weeks later on my birthday. Coming back was an abrupt transition. One day, I was an Airman in Afghanistan and the next I was a dad in the hospital.
As a result of the sacrifice I made and the life-and-death situations I've experienced, I've become much calmer. My peers tell me that I've changed a bit after coming back. I'm able to more calmly resolve stressful issues with packages because there are no sirens going off in my head.
Veterans Day is particularly meaningful and rewarding for my, though I feel more emphasis should be placed on recognizing the true contribution soldiers make. Many people treat the day the same as others, but it's not. As veterans and active duty, we've put our lives on the line doing things civilians would never think about doing, so they don't have to.