Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Engineer Prepares Airmen for Afghanistan

By Megan Just 
452nd Air Mobility Wing
MARCH AIR RESERVE BASE, Calif., April 19, 2011 - As 22 combat engineers from the 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron prepared to deploy throughout southern and eastern Afghanistan recently, one airman stepped up to ensure they were ready for the job at hand.
Click photo for screen-resolution image
Engineers assigned to the 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron at March Air Reserve Base, Calif., and the 934th Civil Engineer Squadron at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, Minn., train at Fort McCoy, Wis., for a deployment to Afghanistan. U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey 
Knowing his experience on a similar deployment would be an asset, Air Force Capt. David Simons Jr., the squadron's chief of operations, volunteered to serve on active-duty orders to ensure the logistics of the squadron's deployment preparation ran smoothly.
Embedded with Army units at six locations, the deployed engineers have an opportunity to directly affect troops' living conditions and improve the quality of life for Afghans in nearby villages, the captain said.
"I've been very impressed and proud of these airmen and their determination," said Simons, who returned from a deployment to Afghanistan in the fall. "I can see it in their eyes. They want to go over there and make a difference.
"Because of what we do and our skill sets, we can affect people's lives in ways that go on and on for generations," he added.
As the father of three young girls, Simons said, he felt most connected with the youngest generation of Afghans, the children he would see playing in the streets as his convoy drove through villages. He said it was heartbreaking to know the children's only source of water was from ditches, rivers and shallow wells that were contaminated with high counts of cholera bacteria from fecal matter and urine, and frequently tainted with improperly disposed engine oil.
When Simons and his team would drill wells for the forward operating bases, they sometimes were able to divert a portion of the clean water to local villages. Some of the airmen who are now deployed will have the opportunity to build wells like these directly inside the Afghan villages, he said.
"Thirty years from now, it will be my children's responsibility to work with these children on a global scale," the captain said. "We have the opportunity to make the children's lives better. This will help them grow up healthy and educated, making it easier for the next generation of Americans."
During his deployment, Simons and his team built seven new forward operating bases and combat outposts and helped to bring up to standard the infrastructure of countless outposts by installing wells, plumbing, electricity, roads and bridges.
Many forward operating bases, he said, were built using expedient methods, usually converting old Russian bases, he said. "They weren't done with thoughts of waste, sanitary sewer issues and water," he explained.
The 452nd Civil Engineer Squadron combat engineers who are now deployed are responsible for similar projects in some of the same remote, and often hostile, regions of Afghanistan.
"It's always a high ops tempo," Simons said. "You always have to be thinking four or five steps ahead, especially when it comes to what the enemy is doing and how are you going to stay safe. Then, you're still expected to go out and do your job, which, along with holding a weapon and walking around a city, includes doing such things as plumbing, electrical, [heating, ventilation and air conditioning], and surveying."
Simons estimated that he spent 75 percent of his deployment outside the wire, and his team frequently encountered small-arms fire, improvised explosive devices, mortars and rocket-propelled grenades. Sometimes, he said, when there wasn't enough daylight to return to a forward operating base after a day's work, the team would set up watches and sleep under the stars.
"We're taking ordinary airmen ... and putting them in extraordinary situations, expecting them to fight and still do their job," he said about the engineers who are now deployed. "They're going to excel at this."
Simons helped the engineers before their deployment by showing them photos and videos of his deployment and talking with them about what to expect.
"Almost all of them had never deployed before, and many of them were apprehensive," he said. "Once they knew more about what to expect, they were excited to be able to help the fight."
(Air Force Staff Sgt. Kimberly Hickey of the 934th Airlift Wing contributed to this story)

'Military Kid of Year' Has Leadership Qualities

By Terri Moon Cronk 
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON: For a 10-year-old boy, Tristan Fissette has fortitude to spare.

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Tristan Fissette, 10, demonstrates his black-belt karate form for the audience at the Our Military Kids of the Year awards ceremony at the Navy Memorial in Washington, D.C., April 14, 2011. Tristan, whose father serves in the Navy Reserve, was one of four children honored by Our Military Kids, a nonprofit organization that provides artistic, athletic and educational grants to children of deployed National Guardsmen and military reservists. U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Patrick Gordon 
The son of Chief Petty Officer Patrick Fissette, a Navy reservist, the fourth-grader is working on his second-degree black belt in karate and has no shortage of other activities that keep him busy, especially when his dad is deployed. Despite the demands of his karate training, he finds time to help feed the hungry and to mentor new students in karate and in school.
Tristan's leadership qualities led a panel from the nonprofit "Our Military Kids" organization to choose him as one of four Military Kids of the Year.
Tristan and the other winners -- Keegan Neverett, 16, of Leesburg, Fla.; Chris-Shanti Jackson, 15, of Jackson, Miss.; and Katherine Bensburg, 14, of Mahopac, N.Y. -- won year-long grants to pursue their interests. In Tristan's case, it will pay for his karate training and boot camp.
The organization also named the family of Air Force Senior Master Sgt. William Liston, an Air National Guardsman from West River, Md., as its Family of the Year.
Tristan is the youngest of the four individual award winners.
"I thought it was pretty exciting," he said at yesterday's award ceremony. "We were able to come to Washington, D.C., and I've never been here or able to get an award." His face lit up as he talked about today's special White House and Pentagon tours.
Our Military Kids is a public-private partnership that awards grants to children of deployed National Guardsmen, reservists and certain disabled veterans.
Unlike children from active-duty families, they don't live on or near a base, surrounded by solid support systems and activities. Rather, said Greg O'Brien of Our Military Kids, these children often are isolated in their communities, where people may not understand what military children go through when a parent is deployed.
"My husband is deployed more often than not, it seems," said Tristan's mom, Kimberly Fissette. To fill the time when he was deployed, she added, the family turned to community service near their home in Elk Grove Village, Ill.
"We hand out food at a mobile food bank," she said. The family also volunteers for "Feed My Starving Children" by sending nutrient-rich foods to children in other countries.
Community service is one of Tristan's passions, his mother said. When his father was in Kuwait during one of his four deployments, Tristan was 7. It was then the youngster enrolled in karate to stay busy while his dad was away. Before long, he was hooked on the ancient martial art.
"He's one of the youngest in his karate school to receive a black belt," Kimberly said. "With his dad gone, he just pursued it above and beyond. Most people don't get their black belts for three or four years, and Tristan did it in two and a half."
Tristan quickly moved into upper-level training. Now he trains several days a week.
"You get to do funner things like a sword-sparring class, one of my favorites," Tristan said, quickly explaining the "swords" are made of foam.
His activities don't stop there.
Whether at karate or school, Tristan mentors all the new kids, especially if they're struggling.
"At karate," Tristan said, "I kinda tell them how to bow and do other karate things. And sometimes if they're having trouble, I'll help them."
He mentors on his own, his mom says. No one asked him to help.
Tristan admits he's a pretty good student and good with new kids. "I'll talk to them, and sometimes in math, if they're having trouble with a problem, I'll maybe help them out with it," he said.
Tristan's 11-year-old sister, Kailey, like many other children at the awards ceremony, won a six-month grant to pursue her interest in hip-hop dancing.
O'Brien said the four Military Kids of the Year were chosen from 150 who applied. Since 2004, he said, the grants have grown and so has the program's popularity. The organization's Facebook page has nearly 5,500 members.
"'Our Military Kids'" has provided 28,000 grants totaling $11 million since 2004, O'Brien said. This year's four Kids of the Year received grants of up to $500 per six months, and might qualify for six more months if the parent is deployed. (Issued on April 15, 2011) 
Related Sites:
Our Military Kids 
Related Articles:
Organization Honors Service Members' Children