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There I Was...Armed with a cell phone loaded with numbers

  • Published
  • By Master Sgt. Anthony D. Cruz
  • 6th Force Support Squadron
So there I was, receiving the phone call confirming that I was selected for a short notice deployment tasking. I was going to serve as the 1st sgt. for the 780th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron in Mihail Kogalniceanu, Romania. It's a small city in south-east Romania near the Black Sea. My report no later than date was 15 Jan 2014. The mission for the squadron was combat airlift. I was a part of the initial cadre which stood up the 780th EAS to ensure it would be ready to move U.S. service members to and from Afghanistan when the Transit Center at Manas closed. The squadron was comprised of four C-17 aircraft and maintainers and operators to fix and fly them. We had a small three-person flight medicine team and a few logistics members. We also had intelligence, tactics, and scheduling personnel--everything you needed to launch and recover aircraft safely and reliably.

As with any new organization, obstacles are to be expected. I was tasked with getting transportation, communications, and lodging for the 130 Airmen soon to arrive and execute the mission. I simply started reaching out to the Army and Marine units for assistance. Trying to get Air Force programs to function on an Army network was no simple task. Neither was trying to get funds approved for acquiring assets. I worked closely with contractors from Kellog-Brown-Root and cannot express how important building relationships were in order for the mission to succeed. On most deployments you're armed with an M4 or an M16. I was armed with a cell phone that I loaded with critical contact numbers which I reached out to on a daily basis to help ensure my members had what they needed to execute the mission. 

Often times, in home garrison it's easy to get caught up in the daily routine. While deployed you have to be ready for whatever pops up. For instance, I can recall shoveling a North Atlantic Treaty Organization C-17 out of the snow at a ramp along with 20 other Airmen. Armed with a couple of shovels and some pieces of plywood, we were given one hour to clear the snow away so the jet could taxi out. We attached the plywood to a 10k fork-lift and were able to clear it out so it could take flight. Though it didn't seem very fun at the time, it was a moment that I'll remember because it was the very first of many victories we accomplished together as a team. Just as we used creativity to get us through the blizzard conditions on the flight line I had to be quick witted with morale issues. 

Our location lacked a fitness center. I was able to contact the base Morale, Welfare and Recreation director and he found us some gym equipment at a forward location in Afghanistan. One of our missions was to pick up the supplies on the way back from another mission. I enlisted the help of 12 members from the squadron and together we created our very own fitness center which enabled personnel to work out and relieve stress and get in better shape. Since the deployment occurred during the Super Bowl and March Madness timeframe, I was given the opportunity to plan social events to celebrate and keep the morale spirits up! Food brings people together and it sure paid dividends with the men and women assigned to the 780th EAS. We raffled off prizes--one of them being my car for the day. Again, you have to be creative in austere conditions and with limited resources. I also held barbecues out on the flight line during busy launch schedules to ensure they got a hot meal from time to time and not just a boxed lunch.

Those were the times where I felt I excelled and got to really take care of my team.  The tempo of our operations didn't leave too much down time which was a good thing because it allowed for time to fly by and before I knew it my 120 days were up and I was coming home. I will never forget this unique and wonderful experience and how my contribution supported Operation Enduring Freedom. It's a great responsibility caring for the Air Force's number one asset--its people, and for that I am truly honored!