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From Southwest Asia to Washington
War on terrorism veterans prepare for inauguration.
By Coast Guard Petty Officer 1st Class John Gaffney
JTF-AFIC Public Affairs

WASHINGTON, D.C. – What a difference a few months makes. Back in the summer, Army Maj. Gray Cockerham was pushing needed supplies to paratroopers operating from Baghdad to the Syrian border, including the Sunni Triangle flashpoints of Fallujah and Ar Ramadi. As he reviews the Washington DC parade route for the 2005 Presidential Inauguration, he knows he’s carrying on a tradition that began with the inauguration of President George Washington in 1789.

Like Cockerham, many service members who have assembled in Washington to prepare for this inauguration have played roles in Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom, the major campaigns in the war on terrorism.

Cockerham, logistics coordinator for inaugural ceremonies, served in OIF as the executive officer of the 782 nd Main Support Battalion of the 82 nd Airborne Division, His battalion overcame many challenges moving food, water, bulk fuel, ammunition, construction material and a variety of equipment throughout the division’s operating area which included some of the most hostile regions of Iraq.

Hailing from Martinsville, Va., Cockerham appreciates the change in working environment, but he finds more than a few similarities between his Iraq duties and his duties at JTF-AFIC.

“Logistics for the inauguration will require our people to anticipate, improvise, remain responsive, and maintain continuity of support. This is a no-fail mission… just like keeping paratroopers supplied in battle,” he said.

Navy Lt. Jessica Lipsker deployed to OIF with Destroyer Squadron 23 and was heavily involved in the squadron’s pre-deployment planning for surface warfare, antisubmarine warfare and maritime interdiction operations in the Persian Gulf.

While in the gulf, she served as a squadron tactical action officer and coordinated the patrols of up to five ships and several aircraft on a daily basis. Lipsker, of San Diego, is now a JTF-AFIC plans officer in the Operations Directorate and is engaged in preparing the operating plan which will order JTF-AFIC participation in the inaugural festivities.

“A key point that I learned during my staff job at the DESRON was the importance of working closely with outside agencies and that really relates to what we’re doing at JTF-AFIC,” she said. “Basically, you can’t plan a major operation in a bubble, there has to be coordination.”

Lipsker’s observation is echoed by Air Force Maj. Kiley Stinson, chief of the Credentials Branch at JTF-AFIC, who will be coordinating with the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Capitol Police and the U.S. Park Police to ensure more than 4,000 military members receive credentials for access to their duty locations on inaugural day.

Although he worked closely with other agencies, including host nation security forces, while deployed to Qatar during OEF, the inauguration will have a different feel for him.

“I’m looking forward mostly to see how a mission this size gets pulled off on game day,” he said. “To see how all the coordination, the joint work, the interagency work, comes together in one half-day ceremony … that will be interesting.”

The JTF-AFIC Communications Directorate is liberally salted with war on terrorism veterans.

Navy Chief Petty Officer Derek Jefferson, the noncommissioned officer in charge of network operations for JTF-AFIC, supervised the communications team that kept Navy Special Warfare (SEAL) units operating in the Gulf of Arabia linked with their headquarters during the early days of OIF. Army Sgt. Harry Huddleston crossed into Iraqi territory with the 3rd Infantry Division as the campaign kicked off. Air Force Staff Sgt. Derick Marshall and Tech. Sgt. Harry Hamlett supported operations from Diego Garcia and Pakistan respectively.

Army Sgt. Cameron Baker started the war in Kuwait handling communications for V Corps and jumped northward with the corps’ tactical command post, eventually arriving at Baghdad International Airport. When Combined Joint Task Force – 7 stood up in Saddam’s palace in the Baghdad “green zone,” Baker worked there and later moved to the Coalition Provisional Authority where he served as the noncommissioned officer in charge of automation for Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and his staff.

Although Baker went four and a half months without a shower at the beginning of OIF, things later improved and he even got to swim in Saddam’s pool at the palace. On Dec.12, Baker’s birthday, he was advised Saddam had been captured and to get packed up for a trip to Tikrit where Saddam was being held. Arriving there, Baker set up a secure communications link to pass information and instructions between CJTF-7 and the forces holding Saddam.

At JTF-AFIC, Baker is the network server administrator. He appreciates the opportunity to take regular showers. He is frustrated by the limited awareness on home soil.

“There’s so much good we do over there that goes unreported,” he said. “That really bothers me.”

Baker estimates a high percentage of Iraqis appreciate what the United States has done for their country—freedom, more electricity, better water, rebuilt schools.

For all the members of JTF-AFIC who have helped to establish democracy in hot and dusty Southwest Asia and are now here perpetuating democracy at home, their new jobs may be a lot less risky, but no less important.

Last Updated:
11/30/2005, Eastern Daylight Time
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