Commentary

August 29, 2012

Deployed NCO gains experience, confidence

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Master Sgt. Shawntell Miller
309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit and combat logistics advisor, Kabul, Afghanistan
(Courtesy photo)
Master Sgt. Shawntell Miller, 309th Aircraft Maintenance Unit Supply section NCO-in-charge, fourth from the right, poses with the team she is deployed with in Kabul, Afghanistan, as a logistics combat advisor.

LUKE AIR FORCE BASE, Ariz. — When I was contacted to write a few words for the base paper, my first reaction was excitement. My second was to ask myself, what aspect do I want to share? The mission is talked about often, so I’ll start with that.

I am deployed to Kabul, Afghanistan, as a logistics combat advisor. I’ve been told by many “That’s easy.”

Well this “easy” job came with a required three months of training at Fort Polk, La., that do not count toward the 12 months I will spend in country. I received language training in Dari, one of the languages spoken in Afghanistan, tactical driving training, combat life saver training, improvised explosive device recognition training and Afghanistan culture training, not to mention qualifying on the M2 .50-caliber and M240B machine guns.

This training was new to me as it was to most of the Airmen, Sailors and Marines that were in attendance. But the training wasn’t new to the Army. Fort Polk, Joint Readiness training Center, has been training combat advisors since the Vietnam War.

The days were long and hot in southern Louisiana. There was a lot of information packed into those three months, and I still didn’t know what to expect when I arrived in Afghanistan.

Fast forward through long travel time, even longer layovers and lost baggage until I finally arrived at Camp Phoenix, Regional Support Command-Capital, Kabul, Afghanistan. I became part of the central workshop combat advisor team as the logistics combat advisor.

A mixture of service members, to include Army and Navy personnel and me, are the link between U.S. Coalition Forces and the Afghan national army on logistical, vehicle maintenance and weapons processes.

My new team is all male except for me. I wasn’t sure how to react to being the only female. Was I trained enough? Am I strong enough to hold my own? Will I be able to help when called upon? Will I be an asset to the team or a detriment to the mission?

In addition to advising, we maintain our own convoys to and from the central workshop. We spend a lot of time on the roads of Afghanistan. Navigating the roads is like driving in NASCAR. There are no traffic lights, no posted speed limits, and no rights-of-way. It is basically every man for himself.

This was not something I was used to. My first time driving the lead vehicle was, for lack of a better word, interesting. I was a nervous wreck that morning before we left camp.

I had gotten up early to make sure my truck was in order. I cleaned all the windows, checked the fluids, adjusted the mirrors and annotated the paperwork. I was set, or so I thought.

Once behind the wheel heading out the gate and on the main road my nerves took hold of me. As I began to drive, my convoy commander and NCO-in-charge reassured me everything would be OK, just to take my time. Across the radio, my other team members gave me words of encouragement and more than a few words of ridicule, which they are known to do often.

The things my team said to me that day put me at ease, and the 45-minute convoy through the city streets of Kabul went without a hitch. I got my team to where they needed to be without incident.

Ever since that first day of driving lead, I knew my team would have my back, and I would have theirs, which is a very high priority when in a combat zone. With 107 successful convoy missions under our belts and zero mishaps, we have come to depend on each other a lot.

Over the past few months my questions have been answered and my concerns laid to rest. Being a part of this team has truly shown me how the services can and will come together for a common purpose. We have had our good and bad days on the road, but no matter what, I can always count on my team, and even when they don’t realize they are giving me support, it’s always welcomed. And they know they can count on me too.

Because of the support, confidence and guidance my team has given me, I know without a shadow of doubt that I would risk my life for my fellow service members, some I hardly know anything about except that our purpose here is the same.

I now have a newfound confidence in the abilities the military has trained me for. I am thankful for the countless hours of training and classes I thought at the time were a waste. From this day forward I have gained a new, extended family.




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(U.S. Air Force Illustration by Airman 1st Class Cheyenne Morigeau)

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