Ops officer offers account of Iraq deployment

  • Published
  • By Capt. Tyson Sorci
  • 97th Security Forces Squadron
In the middle of January, 2006, while completing Squadron Officer School at Maxwell AFB, I had a message to call Major Kevin Sherrick, 97th Security Forces Squadron commander. After a few moments of trading SOS stories, he notified me of an upcoming deployment and required training before hand. I gave a resounding Security Forces' "HOO-AH" and planned on leaving SOS at the end of January in order to deploy in early February. I made it home, started the paper work for pre-deployment out processing, and was on a plane a couple days later. 

Other Altus Defenders on the plane with me were Senior Airmen Charles "C.J." Johnson, Corey Fines, Victor Ababa, and Anthony Montanaro, Staff Sgt. Jason Gavin and Master Sgt. David Langdon. Our first stop was Fort Dix, N.J. 

After the trip from the airport to our home for two months of training, we settled into old Korean War era-barracks. The training was physically demanding, but most of the hardship in training was from the snow and cold of the Atlantic coast winter. It was two months of convoy, Middle Eastern language classes, prisoner operations, entry control, weapons firing and familiarity and hand-to-hand combat training. The most memorable experiences that stick in my mind were the "freezing while you sleep" training we had in the middle of the New Jersey woods and the military pepper spray in the eyes - imagine a book of lighted matches in your eyes while being held underwater. 

After the training, we had four days of rest and relaxation before our trip to Iraq. I decided to spend my four days in the nation's capitol and Gettysburg National Battlefield. The time I spent walking the national mall and the fields of Gettysburg reaffirmed the purpose of my service to my country and filled me with heartfelt pride as I strolled the places of the great leaders of yesterday. 

On April 18, the trek to Iraq began. Loading an unbelievable amount of Security Forces equipment onboard a civilian jet liner, we spent 18 hours in tiny seats. It was hot compared to the snowy ground of Fort Dix, N.J. We hit the ground, heading out to the Kuwaiti desert for group live fire training. 

There were two tents where we had class and slept at night. One had to brush aside the camel spiders and locusts that had infested the tents. Our training covered convoy operations, foot patrols and base entry - all with live ammunition. The training built confidence among our team and would calm us if we ever had to engage at close range.
On May 1, we loaded up in massive Navy Sea Stallion helicopters for our flight to Camp Bucca. 

The realization of what we were embarking on came full circle when the three naval gunners on board loaded and charged their waist guns as we crossed into Iraq. The Sea Stallion gunners racked their .50 cals, ready for whatever might get in the way of their mission - taking Air Force Security Forces to Camp Bucca. 

It was a cool 125 degrees; there were high winds and a mild sand storm in this new environment. After funneling out of the Stallion we followed the dusty path into the deep gravel that seemed to be all over the office and barracks area. Then we began to offload the armored semi-truck that delivered our luggage the day prior. 

Master sergeants and above were billeted in two-man pods about 7'x7'x15', just enough room to sleep and stow some extra gear. Senior airmen through technical sergeants had four-man trailers, and Airmen First Class and below had eight-man trailers. Sleeping and privacy is not much of a concern since the job here is very intense and has long hours, and the little amount of time to yourself is usually spent sleeping. 

There are two very distinct missions for the mighty Security Forces on this forward operating base and two security forces squadrons to accomplish those missions.
The 886th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron provides the main security, administration, feeding and some of the interrogating for detained Iraqi individuals, while the 586th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron provides all the bodies for the Force Protection mission. 

It is quite a unique arrangement. We fall under the 43rd Military Police Brigade for tactical control, while administrative and operational control falls to the Air Force. Each of us has earned the 43rd MP Brigade combat patch for serving in the unit in a combat environment. This fact is evident by the continuous roadside IEDs (bombs) we encounter throughout our days. 

Another point of pride is that we are the only Air Force ground unit used in an offensive way. We go outside of the 'wire' every day, 24 hours per day. We consistently give warning shots to vehicles not keeping their distance from the convoy or the Area Security Operations trucks. 

We also have many sentry towers on the perimeter that keep watch towards the town of Um-Quasar and Safwan. The young Defenders that occupy these towers have on their combat gear, M-4 carbines, M-9 pistols, and a crew-served machine gun. We endure temperatures over 140 degrees with air conditioners that work sporadically, dust storms that lowered visibility to no more than 15 feet, and sand that gets into everything you have on. All in all, it's a great experience! 

Getting to know how the Army and other services that work along side us operate, such as the British Dragoons, Alaska National Guard and Navy Sea-Bees, gave us pride in being part of our Aerospace Force!