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There I Was...MacDill Airman 'thankful' for experience

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Spencer Marks
  • 6th Mission Support Group
I was fortunate enough to be afforded the opportunity to join my brothers and sisters in the Middle East less than a year after I graduated basic training. Eight months after arriving at MacDill, I was not only anxious and excited, but confident in the training I had received early in my career; ready to support the global mission.

Leaving MacDill meant I was off to another base and to a different squadron, stepping away from my communications roots to support our civil engineers as a member of the Force Protection flight. The flight is comprised of the Airmen whose primary job is to escort various Other Country Nationals around the base. The flight was a collection of various career fields, so I ate, slept, and worked side by side with crew chiefs, dental techs, plumbers, and many others from bases across the globe. I am incredibly thankful that this experience provided me with a greater understanding of not only the daily demands placed on other career fields, but also other bases as essential components of the world's greatest Air Force.

My original tasking was supervising and protecting OCNs as they comprised the majority of our labor force for various construction projects on base. While escorting OCNs, I was directly exposed to multiple cultures in the region. Each day I consistently learned about food, social relationships and family values through an entertaining system of communication comprised primarily of broken English and hand signals accentuated by the few Arabic and Hindi phrases I could butcher with a thick American accent.

After a few months of escorting OCNs, a unique position opened up in the Civil Engineering squadron. I was stationed at a shared base of American and Host Nation forces, which meant that each OCN needed to pass two separate screenings and approval processes for installation access. CE maintains one individual who is a liaison between contracting, security forces, CE, FP, and the Host Nation security forces. This individual's job is to shepherd OCNs through the screening and base access process, while maintaining a live tracker of their status. This is essential because multi-million dollar contracts can easily fall behind schedule if their workers are denied access to the installation for even a single day. Observing the way I forged honest and professional relationships with the workers on a daily basis, my flight chief selected me to fulfill this role.

There I was, one day watching 10 laborers dig a trench, and the next day overseeing base access for $25 million worth of contracts. I was issued a cell phone so I could be on-call 24/7 and travel to the industrial district downtown to meet contractors in their lean-to factories on a weekly basis. During the remaining months of my deployment, my cultural education accelerated at an incredible pace. Far beyond the cuisine and short stories I had picked up from the laborers, the high-powered contractors practiced slight cultural nuances that distinguished each individual's background. One consistent theme across all cultures was their propensity to negotiate--everything was up for discussion. It became my biggest day-to-day challenge because there is no room for negotiation in base security which is all about emphasizing punctuality and ensuring complete paperwork.

I am astounded at the amount of information I gathered during my time in the Middle East, learning about our Air Force, our Host Nation partnerships, and various cultures on the other side of the world. I thoroughly appreciate the freedoms and luxuries we fight to protect each day after experiencing entire societies that are less fortunate. I would also like to thank everyone who supported us while we were out there, especially during the holiday season. Finally, I hope that my brothers and sisters who are still out there all across the globe are as fortunate as I was and all return home safely.