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Reports from the Front: Kirkuk

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Mindy Bloem
  • 43rd Airlift Wing, Public Affairs
When I entered the military almost four years ago, I was completely venturing into unknown territory. None of my immediate family had ever been in the military, and few of my extended family had served in the service. I had no idea what to expect. Now as I look back on my last four years of military service, and with my first and latest deployment under my belt, I am acutely aware of how much this experience has enriched my life.

I will soon be separating from active duty in a couple months but didn't want to leave without having ever deployed. I was granted that opportunity in December of last year.

I filled a short-notice tasking for someone who was unable to go for medical reasons. I had to report to Combat Skills Training in Fort Dix, N. J., in four days. The days that followed were a whirlwind and, before I knew it, I had graduated CST and was on my way to Kirkuk, Iraq. This was definitely a first for me. I think the only other time I had ever been out of the country was to Canada when our family went to Niagara Falls, and everyone knows that doesn't really count.

Now I was about to be thrown into a new way of life. I had all of the normal questions we as military members ask ourselves on a first deployment: Would I fit into my new work environment? Did I know enough about my job to effectively accomplish the mission?

Would I get along with my new roommates? Would they care that I slept with a big stuffed turtle named Podsworth? Well, maybe that last question was all me.

I got to Kirkuk on Christmas night and spent the next three days learning what I would be doing for the next several months. My job is to write about our Air Force people and the missions they accomplish, and thanks to this past deployment, I was able to cover some very interesting people and missions. My job allows me to take a voyeuristic approach to all of the things being accomplished through our service members. I get to witness incredible feats and then write about the amazing men and women who accomplish them. I love that aspect of the job - highlighting the people who deserve the recognition.

The mission at Kirkuk focuses mainly on training our Iraqi air force counterparts on the various job duties necessary for achieving military self-sufficiency. Being a "fly on the wall" for many of these training endeavors really gave me a newfound appreciation for all the tireless efforts our people are doing on a regular basis.

These efforts were nevermore personified than during the Iraqi elections that took place in March. Our Air Force pilots and crew members got to see the fruits of their training labors when members of the Iraqi air force flew an all-Iraqi effort in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance for the first time in Iraq in support of an Iraqi election. It was remarkable to see the Iraqi forces working together to promote peace and democracy for their fellow countrymen. I would never have been able to see something like that first-hand had I not deployed to Iraq. Our people are also performing some amazing humanitarian efforts for the people of Iraq.

Ultimately, these are the memories I am walking away with and am so thankful I had the opportunity to highlight the conscientious work our military members are doing overseas, working with the Iraqi people to build a better tomorrow.

Anyone who has ever deployed knows the days feel interminable at times. However, observing my fellow military members put in those long hours for days on end and realizing it was part of my responsibility to give them the recognition they so richly deserve, fueled my efforts to make my deployment a valuable one. Having now returned, I wouldn't trade that experience for anything in the world.

And after the first few weeks, those anxious feelings start to subside and you feel like you know everything there is to know about surviving a deployment.

And I think I've learned the key to surviving a deployment, well, at least in my case, anyway. For me, it's making goals and having purpose. That's the main thing. I didn't do this as much my first month there and found the time went by much slower until I busied myself in stimulating activity. I stayed busy by training for a half marathon(running keeps you sane), taking part in various educational opportunities, conducting a Bible study, running in every 5k the base sponsored (practically). It doesn't really matter what you get involved in. It just matters that you get involved. Before I knew it, I was heading back home with visions of wearing civilian clothes again dancing in my head.