Call To Arms: Called On Active Duty Post 9/11
Being called on active duty military orders for almost two years, left me with mixed feelings. On one hand, I was grateful and privileged to actively take part in our nations defense after the 9/11 attacks. On the other hand, it left a strain on my wife and kids when I was gone for so long.
A number of people felt like they needed to do something for our country in the aftermath of the attacks. I was among the many in Baltimore that upon hearing about the attacks were on cell phones calling family members, picking up kids from school, and sat at home watching the news deliver coverage of the pandemonium in New York, Pennsylvania, and DC. That night, everyone in my 175th Security Forces Squadron of the Maryland Air National Guard was called to work 12 to 14 hour shifts. Those members including myself who lived an hour or more away from the base were set up with hotel accommodations through our base Services billeting office. Meanwhile, there were a growing number of those who signed up to join the armed forces, some straight out of high school and some with prior service records. I was fortunate in already being a part of the Maryland Air National Guard in the wake of this tragedy. Initially those who were assigned to my squadron would be on Title 10 active duty orders for an unspecified period of time, not to exceed 2 years. In all of the assignments I've been asked to become a part of, I felt that I was among the many men and women who will serve with optimism and a little uncertainty. The uncertainty comes from whether or not we would face adversaries head-on or not. Fortunately it was not the case in any of my assignments.
My first assignment was under the title Operation Noble Eagle, which was a month after the attacks. I was one of the two 13 member teams from my unit to be assigned to an active duty Air Force base in North Carolina. Our teams were among 5 other Air National Guard teams and one Reserve component that were performing law enforcement and security duties on the base. The Security Forces members that were assigned to the base were deployed to various overseas assignments. Performing this state side duty with ther teams from various states was an awesome experience, because this was my first time ever being active duty with the Air Force. Prior to joining the Maryland Air National Guard, I was an active duty Military Policeman in the US Army for 4 years. There were a number of differences and similarities as far as the type of work was concerned. Working 12 to 14 hour shifts on this base is not as easy as working an 8 hour working day on my civilian job. Working with other units also gave us an opportunity to share ideas on how to effectively do our jobs. Each of us brought our civilian law enforcement experience as well as our prior service expertise, giving the base a more structured form of security to deal with the heightened security alerts.
Being only about a couple of states away from the family was a blessing, considering I could have been assigned to a base in California or deployed to the Middle East. I visited them as much as I possibly could, but when you're on rotating shifts the mission comes first. After being there for a few months, our two teams returned to our home base to live out of the hotel on our workdays doing 12 to 14 hour shifts. This time we had help from the Army National Guard troops, due to the fact that other teams from my squadron were either in other states or were deployed overseas.
My second and final assignment was with Operation Enduring Freedom and being a part of a team that deployed to Saudi Arabia. Aside from the 14 hour flight on a plane contracted through the Andrews Air Force Base Air Mobility Squadron, getting off of the plane at night in 85 to 90 degree heat was one of the many things to get used to during the end of summer. The Saudi Arabian airbase we were located at was 14 miles from the hometown where the bulk of the 9/11 hijackers were from. The base and the troop compound was a built up area with lots of creature comforts put in place by the troops that were here before us. There's no getting away from doing 12 to 14 hour shift work if you are a Security Forces member in the Air Force. Eight hour a day shift work comes when you have an over and abundance of troops.
Even with a number of Air National Guard and active duty Air Force personnel, 12 to 14 hour shifts were the norm. There are about 8 sections that had to have a certain number of troops to man. Each section was as important as the next one. One section searched vehicles that came on the compound, a couple of sections were assigned to patrol different sectors outside of the compound, and one section secured the planes for all of the joint contingencies that not only included Air Force and Marine planes, but planes from England and France. We all had a good rapport with each other; getting along with other units, other services, and other countries. I guess we figured that we were all in this war on terrorism together, so we might as well get along.
The strain on my family back home was a bit difficult for them and myself. I was constantly worried for their safety when the sniper attacks were prevalent in the Maryland/DC area. And to think that they caught them in the same county I live in, I certainly did have cause for worry. I was relieved on that one aspect. I was afforded the chance to write and e-mail them on occasion, which took off a little bit of missing home so much. My friends and colleagues in the Office of the Inspector General's office really came through and sent two care packages to me while I was over there. Over all what kept me going was the fact that I had loving family and friends tocome home to when I got back.
Being deployed in another country makes you recount a part of the last verse of the first stanza of the Star Spangled Banner that states, "Ore the land of the free, and the home of the brave." Most people need to experience what it's like to go to a country where husbands do not treat their wives with the respect that they deserve. Behind a Saudi woman's veil reveals more than bruises and missing teeth at times, but you can also see their pain. Saudi Arabian men do not regularly perform manual labor, so they employ people from other countries such as Palestine to do this sort of labor. They are called Third Country Nationals (TCN's), and you see a number of them on the compound. While Security Force members such as myself are on patrol, you are very watchful of them as well as the rest of the people on the compound. There have been incidents where TCN's were offered money from terrorist groups to provide information to gather intelligence regarding the activities and supplies on the compound. Some American, British, and French personnel were also involved with doing this as well. The only similarities with working overseas and stateside is the fact that the threat of terrorism is networked everywhere. We have troops all around the globe, and each one of us stand watch to combat the threats of all enemies foreign and domestic.
The experience of being overseas changed my perspective to one that is more knowledgeable about Middle Eastern culture. I am employed with the Office of the Inspector General, and my assigned area is located in central Maryland. In this capacity, I speak to customers of various nationalities that make up the growing melting pot of that county. I realize that a number of them are from the Middle East that are either for or against the various arguments that stretch thin the road to peace in that region. Some may plan on returning to rebuild or restore their country, be it Iraq or Afghanistan, and others are privileged and grateful that they are living in America and can truly know the meaning of freedom and living without the kind of fear that they may have seen in their childhood.
Most children in America answers you with enthusiasm when you ask them what do you want to be when you grow up. Most Children in the Middle East do not even think that far concerning their future, as they live in a fear that our children could not ever imagine. I investigate fraud and make sure that benefits are given to customers that require it, and I've done so in a matter that leaves the customer with the respect and dignity that they deserve through their presently trying time. I will continue to do so armed with the fact that I've seen firsthand how people in other countries live, and that freedom is definitely not free.