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Face of Defense: Vehicle Operator Runs Personnel Shop

By Air Force Senior Airman Patrice Clarke
Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul

ZABUL PROVINCE, Afghanistan, Dec. 19, 2012 – “Just go to the training so we have someone trained until the actual S1 gets here.”

Click photo for screen-resolution image
Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher McDaniel explains an inprocessing sheet to a visiting service member at the provincial reconstruction team in Afghanistan’s Zabul province, Dec. 17, 2012. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Patrice Clarke

(Click photo for screen-resolution image);high-resolution image available.

That statement is what ultimately landed Air Force Tech. Sgt. Christopher McDaniel, a vehicle operator deployed from Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Va., in his current position as the noncommissioned officer in charge of personnel, or S1, for the provincial reconstruction team and Forward Operating Base Smart here.

This deployment, his fourth, is his first working outside his vehicle operator career field. When he joined the Air Force more than 10 years ago, he said, his career choice was driven by time, not position.

“I always knew I was going to join the Air Force -- since I was a little kid,” McDaniel said. “I knew that it was something I wanted to do, and even then knew that it was … something I was going to retire from.” When he walked into the Air Force recruiter’s office a year after high school, he added, he told the recruiter he wanted to join and wanted to leave in about a month. He was given a list of five available Air Force specialty codes and he ultimately chose 2T1X1, or vehicle operator.

“Vehicle operations sounded fun to me,” he said.

Being a vehicle operator has been fun, the Detroit native said. In his previous deployments, he amassed more than 34,000 combat miles on convoys in Iraq.

“Once I started doing convoys, it really let me see the bigger picture, where [vehicle operators] fit into the bigger mission,” McDaniel said. “At home station, you’re driving bus routes or something like that, and you don’t really see how you fit into the overall mission. Deployed, you’re moving stuff that is integral to someone, somewhere. You are taking vital supplies and cargo to other bases that need it.”

After his last deployment, McDaniel even logged instructor time at the Air Force’s Basic Combat Convoy Course at Camp Bullis, Texas, training other vehicle operators on the ins and outs of convoys before they deployed. Though he enjoyed instructor time, McDaniel said, he wanted to deploy again. When the opportunity arose for a nine-month deployment to Afghanistan as part of a provincial reconstruction team, he jumped at the chance.

“When the unit deployment manager told everyone there was a deployment to Afghanistan, I immediately said, ‘Send me,’” he said. “I hadn’t deployed in a while, and I wanted to get back out there.”

Many provincial reconstruction team members have to attend months of training before deploying, and McDaniel was no different. He attended his first training related to the deployment in June for an October departure.

“I was training as a vehicle guy,” he said with a laugh. But when McDaniel arrived at Camp Atterbury, Ind., in July for more training with the team, the team’s needs changed the plan.

“We thought I was just going to fill this position at Atterbury until the real, trained S1 arrived,” he said.

Army Sgt. Maj. Gregory Rowland, the provincial reconstruction team’s sergeant major, said three things factored in the decision to choose McDaniel as the interim S1.

“The first was rank, second was what section could afford to lose one of its noncommissioned officers, and the third was personality,” Rowland said. “McDaniel fit the bill.”

Now, three months into the deployment, McDaniel continues to be the interim S1 and has embraced his position, despite his lack of formal training. “Here, the job is all about accountability -- being accountable for the other people on your team,” he said.

McDaniel is in charge of accountability for every member on the forward operating base, including the military members, civilians, contractors, interpreters and local employees. He also takes care of personnel issues such as emergency leave, reports, awards and decorations. At Smart, the S1 also is the lead mail handler. McDaniel takes it all in stride.

“I would say the biggest obstacle is that I’m not an admin person and I don’t have some of the answers or access to [answers for] people’s questions right away,” he said. “I find those answers, though. It’s all about adapting to your environment and completing the mission. I’m learning as we go.”

His leaders have noticed his drive and dedication.

“I thought it was pretty amazing that he could make the transition so quickly from an operational job like that to a more administrative position,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Justin Kraft, the provincial reconstruction team’s commander. “Frankly, he’s doing a great job, not just with the S1 position, but with everything he’s taken on,” Kraft said.

McDaniel also has taken on the role of morale and welfare coordinator, hosting poker and spades tournaments and other events.

“That’s something you usually don’t get from an S1 -- or a trucker for that matter,” Kraft said. “He really cares about the unit, and his esprit de corps is something that most people should emulate.”

Though he spends a majority of his time wearing the S1 hat, McDaniel is still able to take a turn behind the wheel and has racked up some Afghanistan miles as well. He advises anyone who is put in a position outside their level of expertise to keep an open mind.

“You don’t know if you are going to like the position or not,” he said. “Remember that whoever put you in that position must believe you can handle it. I thank [my leaders] for the opportunity to expand my breadth of experience.”

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