MOUNTAIN HOME AIR FORCE BASE, Idaho (1/28/2013) – In war, things
can change in a heartbeat.
A major challenge in ensuring
airmen are technically, mentally, physically and spiritually
prepared to honorably endure battle, even if all hell breaks loose,
and resilient enough to return to a state of normalcy afterward.
Staff Sgt. Matthew Smith, 366th Security Forces Squadron
operations staff noncommissioned officer-in-charge, has learned some
lessons the hard way but is now dedicated to helping prepare airmen
junior to him for anything and everything, he said.
six-year Air Force veteran, has deployed to Camp Bucca's Theater
Internment Facility, Iraq, in 2007; to Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan,
in 2009; and to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, in 2011.
deployed, the Gridley, Calif., native has spent the rest of his
career at Mountain Home Air Force Base.
Smith's tale began to
unfold at Camp Bucca's TIF, during his first deployment where he
helped guard a compound of suspected terrorists and other criminals
awaiting processing or court dates. Working hand-in-hand with Iraqi
police, Matthews and his teammates watched inmates, provided meals,
and transportation to school, recreation or courtrooms.
was transitioning into the country, the compound I was bound for was
hit with some rockets, which killed and injured more than 30
people,” recalled Smith. “It's a dangerous situation to rush into
that type of attack to provide medical care or restore order, though
most detainees were actually fairly civil and cooperative.”
While most service members downrange are armed with assault rifles
or heavier machine guns, Smith reported to work daily armed only
with less-than-lethal weapons such as Tasers, “bean bag” shotguns,
tear gas or high-powered paintball guns, he said.
claims he wasn't involved in any kinetics firsthand during his 2009
Afghanistan deployment and luck seemed to see him through.
fact, mere days after Smith moved out of his permanent living
facility on Bagram and relocated to a transient tent in preparation
for redeployment, that facility was hit with rockets in the very
vicinity in which he lived.
Despite good fortune while
deployed to Afghanistan, Smith remembers that country's children
well, and will never forget the impoverished state in which they
live, he said.
“There was a mine field near the entry control
point in which I typically worked,” said Smith. “I used to see
bare-footed Afghan children maneuver through the mine field by
poking around at the ground with sticks. Seeing kids live in that
state will stay with me forever.”
With two deployments under
his belt, Smith once again set off for a combat zone in 2011. This
time Smith deployed to Joint Base Balad, Iraq, to keep the base's
perimeter secure during the Air Force and Army's drawdown from that
“We normally don't know the task we're going to do
until we get into country,” said Smith, reflecting on the wide-array
of duties he'd performed during the multiple deployments. “War
experience really is the best mentor both for your own survival and
to help fellow airmen prepare for war.”
If war experience was
worn as a notch in one's belt, then Smith earned another one night
while working one of Balad's ECPs.
“It was a pretty quiet
night and I was working the ECP, conducting security checks,” said
Smith. “I had just arrived at the [Base Defense Operations Center] a
bit earlier and was watching surveillance monitors. Suddenly I saw a
bright flash on the monitor and heard an explosion outside.”
What Smith witnessed was a rocket hitting one of the guard towers
and a second impacting in the vehicle staging area. Smith quickly
joined an immediate response force and rushed to the scene.
“In war, things can change in a heartbeat,” said Smith. “Fortunately
only equipment and structures were damaged and no one was hurt that
For Smith, one major challenge is preparing Airmen
who don't have firsthand combat experience to be technically,
mentally, physically and spiritually prepared to endure it.
“Sometimes people think you're blowing smoke or telling ‘war
stories,'” said Smith. “The reality is that at any given point, any
Airmen, Defender or otherwise, can be tasked to go augment the Army
or Marine Corps, and we all need to be ready. I'm far from being a
hero. I'm just a typical Air Force NCO, so it shouldn't be hard to
imagine yourself in my shoes. Achieve and maintain the highest level
of readiness.Your or a friend's life could depend on it.”
By USAF Master Sgt. Kevin Wallace
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