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COMBAT TRUCKERS
SOUTHWEST ASIA – The Air Force 2T1 vehicle operator career field is comprised of 2,363 Airmen, 268 of them are women. These 70th Medium Truck Detachment ‘Scorpions’ and the 424th MTD ‘Centurions’ are eight of 26 female vehicle operators currently deployed with the 586th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron at an Army camp in the Persian Gulf Region. These women circumnavigate a 31,000-plus-mile stretch of highways in Iraq and the Persian Gulf Region delivering life and mission-sustaining materials to U.S. joint-service and coalition ground forces located at all the forward operating bases in Iraq supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom. (U.S. Air Force photo/Tech. Sgt. Michael O’Connor)
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COMBAT TRUCKERS: Airmen make history one mile at a time

Posted 3/30/2008   Updated 3/30/2008 Email story   Print story

    


by Tech. Sgt. Michael O'Connor
386th Air Expeditionary Wing public affairs


3/30/2008 - SOUTHWEST ASIA  -- Editor's note: This is the second of a three part series titled "Combat Truckers." The series takes a look at how a group of vehicle operators have paved their way into history and their fellow Airmen who make their unique mission happen.

Long gone are the days when women in combat only nursed soldiers on the battlefield, carried water, cooked, laundered clothes and served as saboteurs.

Today, more than 90,000 women have served in the U.S. armed forces as fighter pilots, medics, military police, and in many other positions in Iraq, Afghanistan, and related areas since Sept. 11, 2001.

From the early days of the American Revolution in 1775 to the present day Global War on Terrorism still being fought, more than 2.5 million women have and continue to make a difference. So too are the 268 female Airmen in the Air Force's 2T1 vehicle operator career field who deploy to the 586th Expeditionary Logistics Readiness Squadron's 70th and 424th Medium Truck Detachments--a unique combat oriented LRS that requires Airmen to drive, fight, and win.

"Being deployed to this unit has made me a much stronger person and more confident in my job and rank as an Airman," said Senior Airman Celeste 'She-Ra' Paquette, a 70th MTD convoy pace setter and third country national truck driver liaison, deployed from the 20th LRS, Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. "It takes a lot of inner strength. You have to dig your heels in and check your fears at the door."

Since February 2004, these women have driven side-by-side their fellow Airmen and Soldiers through some of the most dangerous and deadly roadways in the world. They have been shot at, have shot back, and have witnessed comrades in arms pay the ultimate sacrifice.

"The dangers never leave your mind, but you can't dwell on them--just need to prepare for them as best you can," said the four-year veteran Paquette from Bluffton, Ind., who initially joined to become an air traffic controller in 2004 and later cross-trained in 2007 to become a vehicle operator.

Already in the fight six months after graduating technical school and completing the Basic Combat Convoy Course, dubbed BC3, Airman Paquette, now with five convoy missions under her belt, said she's still just as eager to get out on the road as she was before her first mission.

Thirteen women were amongst the first class of more than 150 to graduate BC3 on June 6, 2004.

"Vehicle operators make history every single day," said Chief Master Sgt. Carl Hunsinger, 386th Air Expeditionary Wing command chief master sergeant, a vehicle operator by trade who commanded one of the first gun truck companies in 2004. "Driving millions of miles over enemy roadway has taken place and our warriors ... are our enlisted on the ground engaging the enemy every single day ... and that is historical all by itself. It's like having a fighter pilot on the ground."

Chief Hunsinger, a native of Starke, Fla., said these vehicle operators primarily go to places where there are no runways or airstrips of any kind; however, they go to places with airstrips too due to the requirements of the cargo and the high demand for airlift.

With the potential for enemy ambushes, improvised explosive device, and explosively formed penetrator attacks every time vehicle operators pull-out of the yard to deliver equipment, vehicles, supplies and other materials to forward operating bases in Iraq, these combat warriors are all business.

"Once you're here in-country, its game on mode," said first time deployer Airman 1st Class Shae 'Tater' Jacobs, a convoy loadmaster deployed from the 3rd LRS, Elmendorf AFB, Alaska, who's husband and fellow vehicle operator Senior Airman Richard Jacobs is also deployed to the same unit. "You just do what you got to do and react accordingly when something goes wrong."

Airman Jacobs, a native of Clayton, Ga., said it's a comforting feeling to be able to reach out to her husband when she needs to vent, as he knows exactly what it's like and what she's going through, but admits it's also harder. She said being deployed here to this combat oriented unit, they both know the dangers and know what the other is going through on a daily basis, and worry each time the other is going out on a mission.

Inspired to join the military following her experience with the Air Force JROTC in high school, Airman Jacobs has already completed eight missions and believes a lot more in herself, in her ability to perform, and in communicating with senior leaders to get the mission done.

"I always knew the Air Force was a viable option for me to do something with my life as I wanted to explore the world, and the financial security was an added benefit," said Airman Jacobs, whose mother served in the Army, uncle in the Air Force and grandfather in the Navy. "So many deploy and will deploy at least once to this unit and I'm proud to be a part of it. I feel like I've actually deployed and can see the difference I'm making, in stead of being at a typical air base location away from the action."

For many 2T1s, being in the fight on a daily basis, is becoming more of the norm as it's now been four consecutive years since they began deploying in-lieu-of their Army brethren as crew served weapons gunners--gun truck gunners, and now as convoy commanders, assistant convoy commanders, convoy load masters, convoy pace setters, and convoy TCN liaisons for the line haul missions being led by the Air Force and Army.

"The difference between then and today is we have organized contracted 'White Trucks' that are lined hauled by our Airmen in one of our two medium truck detachments with M915s which lead and protect the cargo and TCNs," said Chief Hunsinger. "Every vehicle is protected both by the drivers themselves and the Army gun trucks, as well as having adequate armor and complete detection systems, which makes for a more secure convoy than in the past."

In the beginning, these female combat warriors were operating the 50-cal machine gun, M-2, M-249 squad assault weapon, Mark-19 grenade launcher, M-4, and some had to know the M-9, said Chief Hunsinger, and their ages ranged from just graduated high school at the age of 17 up through the rank of staff sergeant for the women.

"We've made history in many different ways and these vehicle operators in combat are a prime example," said Chief Hunsinger. "It's not unusual to have someone in the Air Force who's under the legal age to vote and drink alcohol. But what is unusual is the missions we're taking on for this career field and these Airmen--they're not the doctrine our Airmen typically follow."

Deployed with her technical school instructor for vehicle operations, Airman Paquette said after deploying six months out of the school house she understands the importance of soaking up every ounce of training you can get in her specialty.

"It was hard at first when I cross-trained as I wasn't mechanically inclined and getting my hands greasy wasn't at the top of my list, but now, I love being out on the road... it's a rush... it's exhilarating," said Airman Paquette. "This AFSC is turning out better than I hoped and as a female this deployment is an ego boost. Yeah! I drive that!"

All the women doing this same mission all want to be treated as equals.

"Other sister services don't realize we, the Air Force, do ground convoy missions, much less a woman," said Airman Paquette. "A Marine asked me one day what I was doing at the camp and I told him the Air Force was doing line haul missions for the Army. He was surprised to hear the Air Force was doing this mission and shocked Air Force women were involved in the operation as well."

"We're all doing the same mission and no one is playing the 'I'm a female card,'" said Airman Paquette. "I think anyone who crosses the wire has a level of inner strength to do this mission. I hope it strengthens the perception of women in the military, and I hope everyone understands what were doing and why."

For the past 238 years, American women have honorably served in defense of the United States of America and its allies. In times of war and peace, women have and continue to willingly respond to their nation's call. The 268 women of the Air Force 2T1 vehicle operator career field are helping to lead the charge in today's ground combat environment in Iraq as they sustain the U.S. joint-service and coalition forces ground operations.



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