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There I Was: A deployment like no other

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Puro Jimenez
  • 6th Force Support Squadron
On the drive to Tampa International Airport, I thought about how my first tour to Afghanistan was going to be unlike any of my previous deployments. Normally in our career field we are tasked as a team, but this time, I was representing the 6th Force Support Squadron alone in theater. Upon arrival at Manas Air Base, Kyrgyzstan, the other member traveling from MacDill AFB and I parted ways and began our journey to different regions in Afghanistan.

My primary mission as the morale and welfare accountant was to maintain the morale and welfare of U.S and NATO troops at our base. In the beginning I was worried because I thought they all looked like the bad guys. It seemed as though every Afghan wanted to enter the gate, and I was in a position that required me to sponsor hundreds of them during my tour. When I traveled outside the gate, I was on the alert. Locals would constantly approach me with many reasons as to why they should be allowed on the base.

My worst fear was that I would sponsor the wrong guy on and put the mission and people at risk. I continuously asked myself, how do I know who is the enemy and who is friendly?

I became a liaison between the military and the Afghan business owners. One of my responsibilities was to monitor the local Afghan business owners and employees who worked on the base every day. If a regular employee was ill, I was responsible for sponsoring the replacement onto the base. When vehicles and merchandise were brought in, I inspected them for contraband items. If they had family members who were sick, I would ensure they got care at the base hospital. If they needed a vehicle pass, I would help them fill out the paperwork in english.

During my 196-day tour, I learned a lot about the Afghan culture and traditions. Many Afghans work long hours seven days a week trying to provide for their families by working in our shops. As I checked in on the Afghan shops during my daily rounds, I was warmly and openly welcomed. At times, our culture differences clashed; I'm from New York and we need three feet separation comfort zone. The Afghan people love to talk up close and personal and they like to hug. So there were some uncomfortable interaction, but I miss those guys, the food, morning and afternoon tea and Afghan bread.

My biggest challenge during my tour was driving to military and coalition camps. As the highest ranking member of the group and driver, my primary mission was the safety of the passengers. It always felt as though we were being watched and we were always hyper-aware that an event could happen at any time. Defensive driving was the key to avoiding an accident; however, the locals drove with no regard to safety or speed. During these drives, I continuously thought about how I might react to a dangerous situation if and when the time came. I surmised that in precarious circumstances, when the body is pumped with adrenaline, you just do what you have to do to get out of the situation. We had zero combat experience among us, but our military training and willingness to serve our country kept us traveling the dangerous roads of Afghanistan.

Over all, I had a great tour in Afghanistan. It was a learning experience and an adventure. That's one of the aspects I love about the military, you never know where you're going to end up. One day you are in beautiful Florida and the next in a warzone.