Airmen never cease to amaze me…
By Chief Master Sgt. Frederick Soechting , 14th Operations Group Superintendent
/ Published January 23, 2008
COLUMBUS AFB, Miss. --
I was offered an amazing opportunity in May of 2007. You know, one of those "once in a lifetime" or "an offer you can't refuse" types of opportunity. I was tasked to deploy to Balad Air Base, Iraq. I was to act as the Chief Controller for Balad's Combined Enroute Radar Approach Control, the Department of Defense's busiest airfield operation. I'm a fairly confident individual but Balad is legendary in the Air Traffic Control profession as a make you or break you type of location and I was apprehensive but excited about the challenge.
Upon arriving it was clear that Balad CERAP would live up to its legend. It was extremely busy and complex. However, what really impressed me was how the Airmen responded to the challenge. Airmen like Airman 1st Class Molly Kesteloot who had less than three years in the service but was on her second deployment to Iraq. Airman Kesteloot achieved a full facility certification only eight days after arriving at Balad. This remarkable feat is admirable for a seasoned seven level controller much less an Airman with less than three years service. Airman Kesteloot is just one example of many from my initial experience at Balad that reinforced my belief that our United States Air Force produces the world's best and most qualified personnel.
Time and again the Airmen assigned to the Balad CERAP impressed me and others with their technical savvy and devotion to duty. As part of the effort to help Iraq regain its sovereignty, the CERAP was tasked with training a lead supervisor from the Federal Aviation Administration group tasked with opening Baghdad Air Control Center and training Iraqi civilians to assume the air traffic control in Iraq. The contractor, Doug Young, was to achieve a Center certification in the Balad CERAP under the tutelage of Air Force controllers. The Center function in the CERAP was complex but the Baghdad Approach and Balad Approach Control functions were the most complex and busiest.
After achieving certification in the Center function, I offered Airmen to train Mr. Young in Baghdad Approach. Mr. Young, a seasoned FAA controller with over 29 years of experience at some of America's busiest airports, responded with, "No way. I've watched these young men and women over the last few days and I am simply amazed. I have never seen such a young and professional group of controllers before. I don't know how they do it."
Mr. Young's amazement was matched only by my own. It's times like this when all the years of training to be an enlisted leader meshed for me into a true sense of achievement as I shared in the accomplishments of the CERAP team and it's young but professional air traffic controllers.
In August, Baghdad Air Control Center assumed control of 29,000 feet and above over the skies of Iraq and marked the country's first steps towards reclaiming control of its skies. The combined efforts of the men and women of the CERAP were instrumental to that effort as well as many other Operation IRAQI FREEDOM accomplishments during that time. It is with great pride that I assure you now that Air Force men and women are making a difference in Iraq. Each link in the Air Force chain, each profession, contributes in its own way but make no mistake, we are winning and we are proving everyday that America's Airmen are the best the world has ever known.