By Beau D. McNeff
I had the opportunity today to interview a War on Terror veteran from the US Air Force. Between 2001 and 2005 this Staff Sergeant spent more than 14 months on 4 deployments to the Middle East. He was not a combat soldier, but worked on Air Force equipment and vehicles. This is the first in a line of interviews with vets that I hope to write, and will sum up our conversation in a few paragraphs. The Staff Sergeant requested to be identified as “Paul” because he is considering re-enlisting.
Paul joined the Air Force directly out of high school in order to provide himself certain opportunities that he might otherwise not be able to achieve, such as a college education and a skill set for the job market. He was “proud to serve” as his relatives had, and gained a certain confidence that can only be found when overcoming obstacles. On September 8th, 2001 Paul landed in Saudi Arabia and began to prepare for his stay as if it were to be any other deployment. Three days later his role, and the job he had been sent to do changed dramatically.
Looking back, he said this was one of the most uncertain times he spent in uniform. No one knew exactly what was going to happen, but everyone knew that we would respond to the terrorist attacks. Paul completed that mission and returned home, only to be deployed time and again to support the War on Terror. In all his trips to the Middle East, he called out two items that stuck out as his most noticeable memories over seas. First, we discussed the amount of money spent to launch and maintain the campaign. The missions of the pilots and crews that he worked with “were not cheap, and we were flying them regularly.” The strongest memory that he had was of the dedication of his fellow airmen. He and they had been deployed several times, many of them going over as much or more often than he did. With all that time away from their families and loved ones, they were “still dedicated to doing their jobs,” and proud to be serving their country. They were “burnt out, tired of being in a long confrontation,” but held steadfast to the belief that mission was crucial and their job needed to be done.
When Paul got home to the states, he noticed some differences here that really struck him as odd. We civilians carried on like normal, like nothing was going on and we weren’t at war. He compared this to the days of previous wars like WWII and Korea when people felt the war on every level. He recalled going into a bar and people danced and drank as if “there was no sense of urgency to win or fight a war.” The majority of this can be accounted for in the coverage of the war by the media, he said. He attended operational meetings and briefings while over seas, but there was evident spin by the media here that left him feeling “cheated.” He said you could tell that the media is only giving you half the truth at best, and you have to sift through all the networks and online resources just to get an idea of what’s really going on. He said that this goes down to the daily death toll that papers like the Oregonian run, which in his words “is fair coverage so that people understand the true cost of war,” but he argues that it isn’t the only story the papers should run.
As all conversations these days seem to turn to politics, so did ours. Paul considers himself an independent and said that he would want Colin Powell to be President if he had a choice. Paul will back McCain this year because of McCain’s experience and his feeling that McCain has a good feel and understanding of what it will take to win the war. Obama, Paul says, shows a lack of character and judgment in his friends and associations and that does not bode well for a person charged with making life and death decisions.
Thank you Paul for serving our country,
Beau D. McNeff
Paul’s service —
Staff SGT, USAF
9/01 —12/01— Saudi Arabia
8/02 — 11/02 — Oman and Uzbekistan
2/03 — 6/03 — Pakistan and Uzbekistan
4/05 — 8/05 – Qatar