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'There I was"

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Nicholas Turner
  • 6th Contracting Squadron
Deployments can be a difficult time for anybody, especially if you are not prepared.

My wife and I were preparing to receive our first child when I got tasked with my last deployment. I knew I had to get my wife ready for what was about to come. I have been through a couple of deployments before so I knew what to expect, or so I thought. When you deploy as a contingency contracting officer, the majority of the time you will be deploying by yourself. That is one big difference from my previous career field, aircraft maintenance, when I deployed as an entire unit.

Deploying as a unit made things a little easier, simply because I was always around people I could follow. On top of deploying by myself, I was also about to get a warrant to approve my own contracts, which is a huge responsibility. The most important lesson I learned about deploying in contracting is that everything is subject to change and you have to adjust and roll with whatever is thrown at you.

My wife is a native of Germany. Since all her family is in Germany, we decided to send her back to be with them. We knew her family was going to provide the care and support necessary during her pregnancy, and I knew I wouldn't have to worry as much if something came up. Another reason that gave me peace of mind was that she would only be 20 minutes away from Spangdahlem Air Force Base. Having her close to a military installation was good in the event she needed to take care of any military issues that I couldn't tend to in Afghanistan.

We had everything planned out and I did my best to keep her informed about what I had to take care of with all the out-processing and training that was required for me.

Being in the Air Force for a little bit over eight years, I knew everything was subject to change. My trip to Afghanistan was no different, but I did not expect my trip to be as long as it was to get to my final destination. My deployment orders were for forward operating base Phoenix in Kabul, Afghanistan. I left the United States from Norfolk, Va. My first stop was in Ramstein, Germany. This was a good stop because I got to meet up with my wife for about two hours one last time before I reached Afghanistan.

After I left Ramstein, the next stop was in Kuwait, just to refuel, and then we went to Al Udeid Air Base in Qatar. I was in transit there for about two days. During my short stay in Qatar, I got to watch the Super Bowl. I was pretty happy about that because I am a big football fanatic. My next stop was Bagram, Afghanistan. I figured I could hop on a quick flight to Kabul and
be done traveling and get my deployment started. I was completely wrong about that; I was at Bagram for about 36 hours trying to get a flight that would take about 20 minutes.

I finally reached Kabul International Airport, and all I had to do was to take a convoy to the forward operating base I was assigned to. I made a phone call to the individual that was in charge of all the enlisted Air Force contingency contracting officer movement in Afghanistan, and he informed me that I needed to go back to Bagram. At this point I was so tired of traveling all I could do was laugh, and get on another flight back to Bagram. By the time I finally got to my final destination I had been traveling for 10 days.

It took me about a week to get in a good groove and start really understand how contracting worked at a deployed location. I was working in the commodities flight. I was buying things like TV's, cell phones, phone cards, and furniture. Pretty much anything that did not deal with construction or services. I dealt with Afghanistan business owners every day; it was amazing to see how these business owners were capable of getting any commodity that we asked for. I should not have been surprised since they have been doing this for the last 10 years.

On March 14, 2011, my wife gave birth to our daughter. That day was also my day off and I was able see my newborn baby for the first time through Skype. I never thought that I would miss the birth of my first child but when you are in the military there are some things that you just have no control over, and I was ready for that.

Over the course of the next five months I worked on average about 16 hours every day, and only took about five days off. During this time the work never slowed down and I realized just how important my job is. I was able to buy much needed supplies for military and civilian forces that were outside the wire, ultimately saving lives. Unlike being stateside, out there I had the authority to commit the government into a contract, and there was less red tape so I was able to buy items a lot faster.

The business culture in Afghanistan is very competitive and if the contractor cannot establish a good reputation for his company, then he is likely to fail. The contractors know this and that is why they are very persistent when comes to getting work, and I do not blame them. I tried my best to create the most competition as possible within the bounds of my requirements as possible.

Overall, this deployment was a great experience in my life. It's one I can always look back on and be proud of what I was able to accomplish. And I can be proud of my family for having endured all the tough situations they faced in my absence. This deployment has taught me to never get comfortable with any situation I get put in while in a combat zone, because everything is subject to change. All you can do is get your family and yourself mentally prepared for anything. That way when things start to get crazy it won't be that big of a surprise.