Expeditionary defenders forward deploy in fight against ISIS

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Benjamin Wilson
  • 407th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
AL-ASAD, Iraq -- When 12 security forces Airmen from the 442nd Fighter Wing at Whiteman Air Force Base first received word of their deployment, they thought they knew what lay ahead.

The U.S. Air Force Reserve Airmen began their training to become a fly-away security team before their deployment in early December.

As information flowed that the deployment tasking had changed – the Airmen were headed to the 407th Air Expeditionary Group to perform base security, not FAST support – many of them were disappointed they would not do the job for which they were trained, according to Senior Airman Logan Schneider.

Little did Schneider and his fellow Airmen know this would be the first of several changes to their mission in the fight against ISIS.

Forward Deployed

“We got a call in the middle of our shift and they just told us, ‘Hey, you are going to Northern Iraq,’” said Staff Sgt. Christopher Pitts.

The Airmen were chosen because the forward deployment into Iraq required the training they had already received.

Pitts said he was excited to finally put his skills to use in a deployed environment.

After about a month on station with the 407th AEG, the dozen security forces Airmen packed their bags and left for a month-long temporary duty in Erbil, Iraq.

The mission was to establish an airfield management program for the U.S. and coalition forces supporting Operation Inherent Resolve from the location, according to Tech. Sgt. Peter Matthews, flight chief.

About five days before the group was scheduled to return to the 407th AEG, they received another notification.

“That was difficult because we were like five or six days from leaving so we were excited about going back to something that we knew,” Matthews said.

Camp Cupcake

All but two of those 12 defenders were to forward deploy yet again to Al Asad Air Base, Iraq. Those two would stay back at Erbil to continue training incoming troops on the standards for airfield management they had established.

“I didn’t really know much about this place and I started reading up on it, that it used to be called camp cupcake,” Matthews said. “Of course you get here and it has been pretty much decimated. All that stuff is gone and everything is temporary living.”

The base, which was well established with food courts and a swimming pool during the height of the Iraq War was over-run and destroyed by ISIS before Iraqi security forces, with the aid of the U.S.-led coalition, began retaking ground.

For Schneider, who was excited to put his skills to use in forward-deployed locations, the hardest part of the move to Iraq has been not being able to video chat with his daughter, Haisley, who was born on his first leg of the trip. Luckily, there is plenty of work to be done to keep his mind occupied.

The ten security forces Airmen originally deployed to the 407th AEG are now part of a team establishing airfield security and restricted areas for the joint and coalition forces operating out of Al Asad AB.

More than six miles of concertina wire, over a mile of defensive barriers, and several entry control points were erected on the backs of the security forces team deployed there, said Master Sgt. Kenneth Short, security forces deployed from Stewart Air National Guard Base, New York.

“It is good to be building something up, because it is something you did and not just something you are taking over,” he said.

This is a sentiment shared by the 10 Airmen forward deployed from the 407th AEG, who are now scheduled to finish out their deployment in Iraq.

Rewards of the Job

“It is definitely interesting because we didn’t expect all this coming out, but it has been a great learning experience,” said Pitts. “I have been in for about 8 1/2 years. I was active for four and reserve for four and this is the first time we’ve been able to see something like this.”

The experience so far has had lasting impact on the new and seasoned veterans of the group.

“I think being able to do these forward deployments gave us a different perspective on how this war is being fought,” Matthews said. “We were able to see different parts of Iraq and different parts of the war on terror from a first line perspective as opposed to being where you are just there to support it. We have been to the front line.”