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Reports from the Front

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
It's never easy to deploy somewhere and leave family and friends behind to travel thousands of miles to another country to live for months on end; however, if the reason is noble, it tends to make the move a little easier to handle.

1st Lt. Harold Peralta, deployed from Pope as a Civil Engineer travel team chief with the 321st Expeditionary Mission Support and Advising Squadron, has spent the last several months interacting with Iraqi civil engineers at several different Iraqi air force bases.

"This is not a typical deployment for CE officers, particularly their first," Lieutenant Peralta said. "Usually, we are sent to augment a base's civil engineer squadron. To be able to interact with the local nationals on a daily basis was the furthest thing from my expectations for my first deployment. I absolutely love it. I will be proud to look back several years from now and be able to say, 'I helped rebuild Iraq.'"

Lieutenant Peralta and his team are part of the Iraq Training and Advising Mission - Air Force, out of Baghdad, Iraq, whose mission is to rebuild Iraq's aerial defense capabilities.

"We work very well as a team," said Maj. Travis Vires, Base Transition team chief. "We work with our various Iraqi counterparts and then return to the office and compare notes to determine what they are doing and how we can help. We can often see problems they are having before they do because of our cohesiveness."

Aside from advising Iraqi air force civil engineers, the lieutenant and his team also monitor construction projects on the various bases.

Their goal is to get their Iraqi counterparts operating without help from U.S. forces, the lieutenant said.

"We received approximately 40 hours of Iraqi Arabic at our pre-deployment training," he said. "The fact that many of the Iraqis we work with have a basic understanding of the English language helps the advising process. The first thing we do as advisors is build a relationship with our counterparts and those we work with often. We discuss personal matters such as family, family history and personal goals. Communication and work benefit greatly from this practice."

"It is extremely satisfying to sit down with Iraqi air force leadership and plan the layout of future facilities for their base," Lieutenant Peralta said. "We have sited critical ramp operations support components such as bulk fuels storage systems, a liquid oxygen plant and a crash fire rescue station."

Lieutenant Peralta said it's rewarding to see the Iraqis using the infrastructures and basic facilities provided to them.

"It's important to build a partnership with them and restore their faith in us as their allies," he said. "We are helping them attain their own capabilities so they are able to take our advice and make it work for them."

The lieutenant said he has gained a lot of perspective during his deployment and urges fellow deployers to learn everything they can while overseas.

"Bring an open mind and do some personal research to educate yourself on the country you're going to," he said. "It definitely helps build relationships with you and the locals if you are familiar with their culture."