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Patriotic Article
Heroes and Patriots
By USAF SSgt. Stacia Zachary

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FORWARD OPERATING BASE FALCON, Iraq (5/26/2009 - AFNS) -- Airmen here paid tribute to a fallen comrade on the two-year anniversary of the death of a fire team leader from the 732nd Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron, Det. 3, Police Transition Training Team here.
Capt. David Watts and Senior Airman Cole Magin stand beside a wreath placed as a memorial for Staff Sgt. John T. Self who was killed in action two years ago on this date when an improvised explosive device struck his vehicle May 14 in Iraq. Captain Watts and Airman Magin served with Sergeant Self and currently are deployed in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Staff Sgt. John T. Self was killed May 14, 2007, while out on patrol when the Humvee he was in struck by an improvised explosive device.

The convoy was making its way through a known hub for anti-Iraqi force snipers and IEDs when the sergeant succumbed to injuries sustained in that blast.

The PTT team dedicated the May 14 convoy mission to Sergeant Self by first visiting the site where the IED struck the vehicle. Two former members of Wildcard, the call sign for the PTT team rotation, both Airmen who were deployed with Sergeant Self, laid a wreath at the impact site and said a few words.

"We come to this spot to honor our fallen Wildcard Warrior known by us as 'the Jackal,'" said Capt. David Watts, the former operations officer from the Wildcard PTT team. "I am grateful for this chance to peacefully honor the life of Sergeant Self. He died doing what he believed in and he believed that being here and helping the Iraqi people was a just cause. Two years later, his beliefs are reality; the progress is amazing."

The experience provided a surreal moment for another member of Sergeant Self's team. Senior Airman Cole Magin is on his second tour with the PTT team.

"It's weird to be here right now," Airman Magin said of his first visit to the scene of the attack since the sergeant's death. "A big part of taking another deployment with the PTT team was to give me a chance to get over losing (Sergeant Self). I took a chance and today it's all about remembering the man he was every day. He had the biggest heart. I wish more people were like him."

The team paid their respects, made their way through the city of Baghdad and arrived at Al-Bayaa Iraqi police station, the Iraqi police station that Sergeant Self's squad was responsible for training and mentoring.

Captain Watts and Airman Magin presented the wreath to the station commander and asked that it be displayed proudly. The captain also had the commander sign a metal plate with pictures of the Wildcard squad in which Sergeant Self was a member.

"We remember him today," said the Iraqi police commander. "We still carry a heavy burden for his death and we honor him for his sacrifice. (The PTT) team has helped us so much and we thank you so much."

The PTT team is responsible for providing outside-the-wire combat support to the Iraqi police. They are responsible for training the Iraqi police on tactical maneuvers and other techniques necessary to provide security to the greater Baghdad community.

In the two years following Sergeant Self's death, the city has undergone a huge change. In many ways, the city is beginning to come alive again after so much fighting.

"I never would have thought that anyone would be safe to step outside their vehicles in broad daylight again," Airman Magin said. "You still can't wander around aimlessly and you can't let your guard down but it's a far sight better now than I could have ever hoped for two years ago."

The memorial marked a moment of acceptance for the Airmen, too.

"I needed to be a part of this. It helps bring things full circle for me," Airman Magin said. "To come back and finally see change -- especially when we were so without hope -- has helped me put to rest this anger I had for my friend being killed. Seeing this place now, walking the streets, helps me accept that what we did here two years ago helped accomplish this. Sergeant Self would have liked to see this."

The captain echoed his sentiments.

"Two years ago, everything (was) hopeless," Captain Watts said. "Knowing there's been such significant change has helped us grasp that we were a part of creating this and that Jackal's death wasn't for nothing. There's finally hope again."

By USAF SSgt. Stacia Zachary
U.S. Air Forces Central combat camera team
Copyright 2009

Reprinted from Air Force News Service

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