Air Force Reservists to Receive Army Medal
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
MAXWELL AIR FORCE BASE, Ala., Sep. 11, 2005 "Join the Air Force, Serve with the Army" may be a new twist to an old recruiting slogan.
In fact, five airmen with the Air Force Reserve's 908th Airlift Wing based here, did such a good job that the Army is recognizing their contribution to America's senior service during their year in Iraq. In December, they will receive the Army Commendation Medal for their service.
"The wing was tasked to provide vehicle operators to serve in Iraq," said Air Force Master Sgt. George Campbell. "We volunteered."
Master Sgt. Vera Berry, Staff Sgt. John Traum, Tech. Sgt. Steven Smith and Tech. Sgt. Cynthia Blais joined Campbell as they served with their sister service in Balad. In early 2004, the Army needed transportation units to supply the Army and Marine forces in Iraq. Air Force and Navy personnel volunteered to help their ground-pounder colleagues.
The five airmen were part of a 250-man company the Air Force put together. The reservists went through Army training before deploying out of Fort Benning, Ga., in February 2004.
"The training was excellent," Traum said during a recent interview. "We don't normally have to think tactically and the training gave us what we needed."
The airmen drove 5-ton and larger trucks in-country and also had some administrative jobs in Balad, which had the unfortunate moniker of "Mortaritaville" back then. When the airmen were there, Smith said the base received some 390 rounds when insurgents would lob mortars into the base whenever they could sneak in close enough.
The airmen also had to contend with roadside and homemade bombs, and the different ways insurgents planted them. "I'll tell you we learned a lot while we were there," Campbell said. "And one of the things we learned was respect for the soldiers and the way they did their missions."
The Air Force company was attached to the Army's 7th Transportation Battalion. Smith, who was in the Army as a driver during Operation Desert Storm, said the Army NCOs took the younger drivers under their wings and continued their training even as they performed operations. "They do a better job of that than we do," Smith said.
They also learned the differences between the services. "The Army supply system is such that the soldiers have to scrounge more," Traum said.
Blais agreed. "We had to learn the way they did things and adopt as we could. But we really did have a very good relationship with the soldiers."
The Air Force unit had a mixture of active duty, Air Guard and Air Force Reserve personnel. "The reservists were able to use their civilian occupations while we were deployed," Campbell said. "We had people from all walks of life that were able to maker things better."
All agreed the experience taught them a lot, and the rough duty hasn't scared them off. All five airmen have recently re-enlisted.