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"There I was ... " Army integrated in Kandahar

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Jonathon Mendez
  • 6th Force Support Squadron
As an Air Force member, I have noticed sometimes Airmen have the luxury of not deploying to the same hostile environments the Army and Marines do. However, there are some taskings for certain Air Force career fields that require us to go to such places. During my 365-day deployment I endured rigorous physical and mental training with the Army I had never experienced before. I was part of the Kandahar Provincial Reconstruction Team, based out of Kandahar, Afghanistan. It was a joint tasking with the Army and Navy. A Provincial Reconstruction Team is an interim civil-military organization designed to operate in semi-permissive environments, usually following open hostilities. The PRT is intended to help improve stability in an area by helping build the host nation's legitimacy and effectiveness in providing security to its citizens, as well as delivering essential government services. Through these missions, the United States shows its support and commitment to the people of Afghanistan.

Going into this deployment, I thought I would be performing my normal job the Air Force prepared me for. Unfortunately that was not the case. A fellow Airman and I first went to train in Fort Lee, Va., for a week to learn how to cook and order supplies the Army way. As a services specialist, I thought this tasking would fit my skill sets perfectly.

Following our stint at Fort Lee, we traveled to Camp Atterbury, Ind., for approximately three months, where we developed basic and intermediate level expeditionary combat skills. We trained on everything from weapons, vehicles, logistics, fitness, combat lifesaving skills, and even Pashto language training. When I arrived at my deployment I did not end up doing the jobs I trained for.

The PRT got a report from our counterparts that the base we were originally going to in Nuristan, was overrun by the Taliban so they relocated us to Kandahar, Afghanistan. Since the new base we were going to did not have any food service positions, we were tasked to train on Army supply, vehicle maintenance and vehicle dispatching procedures. At the same time, we had to continue developing our expeditionary combat skills and learn to live as soldiers. Although the training was tedious and tiresome at times, it was also challenging and a great learning experience.

When we finished our time in Indiana, the next stop was Camp Nathan Smith, in the Kandahar Province of Afghanistan. Since I was not doing my intended job, I was sent by myself to a different Army forward operating base, to do postal service for the PRT. It was a unique experience being the only Air Force member on the Army forward operating base. I learned a lot about the Army structure and how they really do things.

After six months of being isolated from the rest of the PRT, I was sent back to Camp Nathan Smith to rejoin the group. There I was placed in a job being the NCOIC of the armory and working in Army supply. All E-6s and below were required to perform tower guard duty at least once a week. Every Wednesday night from 8 p.m. to 12 a.m., I had tower guard duty watching over the base and the streets of Afghanistan. Occasionally, I was able to volunteer to be on convoys and go out with the Army infantry unit that was part of the PRT. Seeing Afghanistan up close made me appreciate life on this side of the globe.

Being away from home made things seem difficult at times. We come from a place that has everything, and the Afghani lifestyle is nowhere near ours. There were times when I felt down and out, but the people around me helped me get through it. At the end of the day, I knew I was not there for myself, but to help the people of Afghanistan.