NCOs, good fitness helped deployed captain

  • Published
  • By Capt John Velazquez
  • 71st Operations Support Squadron
As an officer deployed for the first time, I learned, relearned or simply verified many lessons in "The Desert."
The very first lesson began as soon as I landed in Kuwait around 1 a.m. local with my Team Vance comrades MSgt Mike Jimenez, SSgt Todd Martin and SrA Bryan Williams. It had just dropped below 100 degrees as we walked out of the aircraft. We were all exhausted, but still spent the next two and a half hours at Camp Wolverine unloading hundreds of bags and rifles in the hot, dust-filled desert wind. At the same time, the captain I was replacing found and began teaching us about the process we were experiencing, because it would soon be our process to handle as the base's new Personnel Support for Contingency Operations, or PERSCO, team.
During and after unloading, we had access to bottled water. Hot water (water is consumed so fast there that it can't all be cooled) never tasted so good! Lesson learned ... my physical training regimen, which earned a 90-plus on the test, helped offset the effects of fatigue and stress. Anything less, in my opinion, would not "cut it" very well in "The Desert," so aim for that 90-plus PT test score.
An hour drive later, the escorted bus convoy cleared the heavy Air Force perimeter security and arrived at "The Rock" around 4:30 a.m. At this point, there was no point in sleeping. The outgoing PERSCO team only had a few days left so we had much to learn in a short time. Thus, the next lesson was twofold and promptly began at 7:30 a.m.: I arrived a "1-week old" captain but Ali Al Salem Air Base demanded the work of a "five years of Air Force and deployed experience" captain. So what did I do? I answered as many inquiries as I could. If I didn't have the answer I said "Yes, Sir or Ma'am," and danced long enough for my dependable NCOs to give me or find the right answer. In short, I did what any officer worth his weight in salt should do ... I provided top-cover so my troops could work without harassment.
For example, certain procedures Air Force Special Operations Command personnel troops used prevented our PERSCO team from properly collecting and reporting accountability discrepancies back to the Air Force Personnel Center. Of course, my NCOs attempted to solve the problem themselves. However, resolution just couldn't be reached.
Often accompanied by Sergeant Jimenez, TSgt Carlos Chavez (Kirtland-based teammate) or Sergeant Martin, I met with the AFSOC senior personnelist several times and "discussed" the info that my team needed in order to execute our mission. Within a few weeks, procedures were amended in our favor and critical information flowed. Sergeant Martin couldn't have been happier because his discrepancy report was now truly complete. Sergeant Jimenez, Sergeant Chavez, Airman Williams and SrA Vincent Scudder (another Kirtland-based teammate) were also thankful for bringing resolution to this problem as it was one less major issue to solve and finally incorporated our AFSOC brethren into our control so PERSCO could truly "account for all Air Force members."
Lessons learned ... deployed commanders will expect you to have the answers and get the job done yesterday, which leads to another lesson ... use all your resources, the greatest of which are your NCOs, to get the job done and make the mission happen.
In short, I didn't see those first few days as a rough start. Rather, they were an orientation to where our priorities, and thus state-side training, should always be to survive, successfully accomplish the mission and get home. From those first few days until the day I left, I depended on my NCOs and Airmen for technical knowledge and advice. They depended on me for top-cover and big picture direction. Together our team succeeded and even improved PERSCO operations at Ali Al Salem.
My advice: even if you're a "fully trained and capable" first time deployer, keep your NCOs within arm's reach. Along with good fitness, they'll save your behind and really help you succeed.