Troops at 'Mystery Base' Take Pride in Mission
By Gerry Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
SOMEWHERE IN SOUTH ASIA, Dec. 22, 2001 A cloudless, azure sky stretched above the installation as Air Force Gen. Richard Myers and his party moved across this "mystery base" to meet and greet troops. Lined up upon a runway, Air Force MH-60-G PaveHawk search and rescue helicopters bristling with mini-guns awaited his inspection.
Myers, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, visited service members in the U.S. Central Command area of operations. These troops are directly involved with the war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban.
Air Force Senior Airman Bryant, ensconced in a turreted vehicle Dec. 20 at a U.S. military facility in the Middle East, scans the horizon with a night-scope-equipped M-60 machine gun at the ready. (Photo by Gerry J. Gilmore)
(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.
The helicopters' chief mechanic, Air Force Master Sgt. Rod, noted that the choppers are maintenance-friendly. "Everybody that works on the helicopters really likes them," Rod said, adding, "When we get a mission, it all builds everyone's self-pride, helping to bring somebody back across enemy lines."
Air Force Lt. Col. Steven, a pilot-physician stationed at the installation, remembers a Dec. 5 helicopter rescue mission. Steven and his troops were asked to evacuate wounded members of a Special Forces team that was operating with opposition forces north of Kandahar in Afghanistan. The American troops and their opposition partners had sustained casualties from friendly fire a 2,000-pound guided bomb had been misdirected.
"Our unit went in without hesitation, in daylight," Steven said. He noted his team had picked up a total of 31 casualties behind enemy lines that day, 20 of which were Americans. Emergency medical attention provided to the casualties "saved a lot of lives," Steven said.
The service members at the installation "are holding their own and they've shown a great spirit," said Air Force Master Sgt. Anthony, first sergeant of the civil engineering component of the Air Expeditionary Group at the post.
The installation's troops enjoy use of a recreation center, when not working long hours in support of military operations in Afghanistan, Anthony noted. The compound, he added, also boasts a Post Exchange, and latrine, laundry and shower facilities. It also has a state-of-the-art, heated and cooled field dining facility.
Anthony said the post has come a long way in a short time, making the best use of limited resources and assets available. The U.S. military, he noted, only began preparing the installation, an old air base, to help support operations in Afghanistan around Nov. 12.
Service members at the post can use on-post telephone and e-mail facilities to contact folks back stateside, Anthony said. However, those services are currently limited to twice-weekly usage, he noted, because of volume and technical issues.
Mail service for service members deployed to the installation is also available, but it is slow, he added. Anthony said that's something he'd like to see speeded up for the troops.
Morale is good at the post, Mitchell remarked, although he said he did tell Myers' staff that improved communications services and better food the dining facility is now serving heated canned field rations, rather than freshly prepared food -- would make morale that much better.
Anthony emphasized that people back in the States should be proud of the "mystery" installation's service members. "No matter what joint venture or military service everybody has really, really bonded to make it work," he concluded.