Deployment challenges foster greater commitment to service

  • Published
  • By Maj. Tom Ficklin
  • 56th Contracting Squadron
Having just returned from my second joint (U.S. Army) deployment, I'm filled with the same feelings of pride and satisfaction as when I returned from Baghdad, Iraq, in 2004.
Deployments are mentally and physically challenging and typically strain family relationships. 

The combination of working long hours, being exposed to enemy fire and interacting with members of sister services and Coalition partner countries is sometimes overwhelming. Persevering through the challenges, relying upon functional training and combat skills training will result in a rewarding and memorable deployed
experience. To those who have not deployed I recommend you seize the first opportunity to go. If your experience is like mine, you will return being even more energized to
serve in the greatest air and space force in the world. 

The number one reason I enjoyed the deployed environment was the sense of contribution to the warfighting mission. In Iraq, I outfitted the Iraqi Armed Forces and
Civil Defense Corps with all their supplies, equipment, weapons and ammunition. Equipping the Iraqi military was a crucial first step in preparing them to assume
responsibility for stabilizing their homeland. 

In Afghanistan, I signed a de-mining contract that will clear 5.5 million square meters of land at multiple coalition bases and will enable the bed down of a NATO squadron to support the close air support mission at Bagram Air Base. I awarded two contracts that provide rotary wing transport of supplies, equipment and ammo for U.S. troops positioned at forward operating bases and combat outposts throughout Afghanistan. 

These contracts freed up 64 percent of the Army's rotary wing blade hours to focus on combat operations. Another fulfilling aspect of deployed work is that you often get to see the fruits of your labors. Acquisitions that would take years at home are completed in six weeks. 

While some policies and regulations are relaxed, the truth is you end up working 12- to 16-hour days seven days a week, and since you are supporting the warfighting effort,
there's no alternative -- you have to get the mission done. 

One of the most solemn memories and one that will stick with me for a long time is the tradition carried on by both the 10th Mountain Division's and 82nd Airborne's
leadership of convening fallen comrades' ceremonies. Regardless of the hour or the weather, all personnel would report to the main street on post, stand at attention and
render a salute as the flag-draped casket passed by. The caskets were always unaccompanied in the back of a humvee, except for the last ceremony I attended. Members of the fallen soldier's unit rode in the back of the humvee as a last display of camaraderie as the remains were transported to the awaiting aircraft. Every one of those ceremonies jerked all who attended out of the mundane, if just for a moment and reminded us why we were there and why getting the mission done was the only alternative. 

For those who have deployed, thank you for your service to our Air Force and the United States. For those who have not, prepare yourselves physically and mentally so that you will be up to the challenge -- it will change the way you view your Air Force service.