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Combat command: The mission

BALAD AIR BASE, Iraq -- I am writing this article while commanding a squadron of C-130s in Balad, Iraq. Before I deployed I wondered if there was a difference leading folks in combat versus stateside? My experience now tells me no. It still boils down to accomplishing the mission and taking care of your people. The real difference is the focus. While in combat, you are able to fine tune your focus on the mission because there aren't as many distracters. Sure you are still thinking about family, friends, fitness, career advancement, PME, taking leave, etc but for the most part you are thinking about one thing....the mission!
Our mission in the 777th Expeditionary Airlift Squadron is to transport people and cargo and deliver them by airland (landing at different airfields) or airdrop. We move people and cargo where they need to be at the right time. Failure to do so has unforeseen consequences, for example, if we do not move a unit at the right time they may not be in place to take down an insurgent group, or if we do not deliver a needed spare part, that aircraft may not be available to provide air cover for troops in contact with the enemy. Every person in the squadron understands the importance of the mission and their role in making it happen. In the AOR, you typically only have one chance to get it right. Across this base, everyone contributes to the mission from the youngest Airman to the Wing Commander; each has a key role in making the mission happen.
I have been amazed by the people I have met and the incredible things we ask them to do and they do it day in and day out under combat conditions. While I was in the Dining Facility (DFAC) the other night, I sat and talked to an Army Private, he looked about 16 years old. He was a small town kid from Arkansas and was impressed that we were aviators flying C-130s. I asked him what he did. He said he was in the Army Guard and volunteered to come over to Iraq. He runs convoys over some of the most dangerous roads in Iraq. Now it was my turn to be truly impressed. Some say this group of youngsters is the next Great Generation, I would have to agree.
I will end by answering the question why am I serving in Iraq? That is a question I imagine many ask themselves when they arrive. My answer is easy. I believe in the mission, I believe in my fellow Americans fighting the good fight, and it is what I signed up to do. Duty here is not easy, but then again most things in life that really matter are not easy. We are writing a small page of history while we are here and there will be others that continue this mission after we rotate back to the states. The key is for people to embrace the mission, make it better and ensure the folks you pass the torch to fully understanding their contribution to the mission.