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Vehicle ops gets the job done at home, in AOR

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing Public Affairs
It has been said that there are no unimportant jobs, but each job lends to a higher calling. If that statement is true, who better to typify this belief than vehicle operators? 

While at home station, one might find a vehicle operator supporting the base by transporting aircrews to and from their aircraft, performing tractor/trailer operations, bus operations, wrecker operations, providing distinguished visitor support, performing pick-up and delivery, not to mention the personnel who work behind the scenes to coordinate all of the day-to-day operations and maintenance of the equipment needed for the upkeep of the vehicle fleet. 

"As a vehicle operator, I like that I have been able to see a lot of things throughout my career -- no matter where you go, we always have the opportunity to get away from the base and see what is on the other side of the fence," said Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Callaway, 43rd Logistics Readiness Squadron. 

Someone like Sergeant Callaway definitely knows what she is talking about in respects to "seeing what is on the other side of the fence." With seven deployments under her belt, she is happy to shed some light on what these operators are doing for the mission while deployed overseas. 

"People mostly only see us driving buses and assume that is all that we do," Sergeant Callaway said. "When you tell them we do convoy missions all through Iraq and Afghanistan, they are totally shocked and flabbergasted." 

On her most recent deployment, Sergeant Callaway was a convoy commander for more than 30 vehicles carrying millions of dollars worth of cargo for what could be as long as a 19-day journey. 

She took this responsibility seriously but said she was even more concerned with the 50-plus lives she was responsible for during these life and death treks cross country. 

"My main mission out there was to get my guys back in one piece," Sergeant Callaway said. "You are in charge of the lives on that convoy as well as making sure the cargo gets there. Every stop you make, you have to check in. You make arrangements for your guys involving the area you are coming into. From the time you leave your specified location to the time you return back to that original location, you are in charge of the entire convoy - lives, vehicles and cargo. 

"The cargo is a big deal because that is what you're there for; however, when you have somebody's life in your hands, that becomes a bigger deal," she added. 

1st Lt. Navondi Hooker, another 43rd LRS member currently deployed, is responsible for the overall tracking and reporting of all inbound and outbound convoys and private security at Camp Bucca, Iraq. 

He said he takes his job of making sure the operators have everything they need for any given mission very seriously. 

"These operators out here do some very serious missions," he said. "The transportation mission is a vital link to sustaining all aspects of the mission. There are many locations where aircraft cannot fly into, and the truck convoys fill this void by supplying everything from personnel, units and cargo to everything in between." 

His unit falls under an Army Transportation Battalion which provides the day to day tactical guidance, as well as works closely with the Navy, Marines, contractors and international forces. 

Sergeant Callaway also knows what it's like to be integrated with the Army while deployed since the Army now runs the gun trucks, a job she remembers the Air Force doing in times past. 

"Our gun trucks are run by the Army now so we had about 12 Army Soldiers with us during my last deployment," she said. "We had about three gun trucks on our convoys and they had anywhere between three and four people inside their Humvees at all times." 

In her opinion, working with the Army in a deployed location as one team seemed to fuse the two branches more closely together than they would be here. 

"It was good to see they are more like us than I thought," Sergeant Callaway said. "Everyone seems to get along great; I guess it makes a huge difference when everyone is working toward the same goal. The Army units we are associated with over there have the same mission and goal -- get the supplies delivered, and get everyone back safely."
Sergeant Callaway was also impressed with how her fellow Airmen seemed to rise to the challenge deployments can sometimes bring. 

"I am amazed to see that our fellow Airmen have been able to adapt to a combat environment," she said. "Once in a while I hear the 'this isn't what I signed up for' (basically implying they signed up for the Air Force so that they wouldn't have to go into direct combat), but for the most part, we would rather do convoys than deploy for base support (driving aircrews)." 

Sergeant Callaway also remembers how she felt during her first deployment.
"The first time was pretty scary," she said. "I think I was more afraid for my family -- that I wouldn't come home to them, but after awhile it just didn't even phase me anymore. 

"The second time I deployed, the danger didn't bother me as much. I mean, if it is going to happen it is going to happen. You can't really do anything to stop it." 

Sergeant Callaway has faced her fair share of danger while deployed. She has been involved in small arms fire, been ambushed by insurgents, and even knows the terrors of an improvised explosive device attack. 

Even though she is often placed in precarious situations, she has learned how to overcome those fears and focus on the greater good. 

"If you're terrified every time you go out there, then you can't really focus on your job," she said. "So you have to learn to focus your energy somewhere else. IEDs and small arms fire don't really phase me anymore. I am just always thankful that when it happens my crew comes out of it. It's a really hard feeling to express or explain because it is just something you have to deal with. I have so many other things to focus on I can't focus on being afraid the entire time I am out there." 

One thing is for certain, whether deployed or at home station, the Air Force's vehicle operators are doing their part to contribute to the war effort. So the next time a shuttle bus passes your way, whether for a wing run or a base tour, try to remember that is simply one aspect of their many missions.