Saturday, May 07, 2011

Airman Delivers Money, Goodwill

By Air Force Staff Sgt. R. Michael Longoria 
9th Air and Space Expeditionary Task Force Iraq

MOSUL, Iraq, May 6, 2011 - What is typically a three-hour trip turned into an 11-hour journey for an airman and his teammates when their mine-resistant, armor-protected vehicle broke down in the middle of an Iraqi village.
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Air Force Senior Airman Jon-Nicos Walker, a military pay technician, helps a customer fill out financial paperwork at Contingency Operating Site Marez near Mosul, Iraq, April 12, 2011. U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Andrew Lee 
Air Force Senior Airman Jon-Nicos Walker, a military pay technician experiencing his first deployment to Iraq, and his fellow service members transited to the next available MRAP to continue their mission.
Despite the vehicle breakdown, Walker said he's glad his job enables him to travel around Iraq.
"This is my first time overseas and I'm glad to be serving in the role that I am," said Walker, who is assigned to the Air Force Financial Management Detachment 2 at Contingency Operating Site Marez near here. "Most people in my career field, when deployed, are usually stuck in an office all day, while I get to travel on a weekly basis."
Walker's detachment is responsible for 17 locations across northern Iraq. His job is different compared to that of most Air Force pay technicians, he said, because his unit works with the Army and offers all the services of a stateside military finance office.
"From our location here, we travel out to other checkpoints and offer the same services to the soldiers there," Walker explained. "Some places we visit weekly, while others only twice a month. I've been able to travel all over Iraq, via helicopter and ground convoy, to provide support to soldiers out in austere locations."
To date, Walker said he has helped more than 11,000 service members with various pay-related issues, including more than 850 military pay transactions. His detachment, he added, also is a test base for removing U.S. currency from the Iraqi economy. Instead of disbursing U.S. dollars, he said, the pay technicians are giving service members Iraqi money.
"The reason behind [disbursing dinars] is because using the U.S. dollar here isn't giving the Iraqi economy a chance to grow," Walker explained. "This gives [Iraqis] a chance to build up what they have, as opposed to counting on us and our dollar."
While the traveling is fun, Walker said, the interactions with his follow service members are the most rewarding.
"When we go out to those locations, we get a lot more appreciation from the soldiers," he said. "They just enjoy us being there. Even if they don't need anything, they still thank us for coming out. It's an uplifting experience."
Walker said he travels to locations where soldiers don't have base exchanges or post offices.
"They are outside working all day," he said. "So, it's good that we are here so they can bring their stuff directly to us. We are right here so they can come and talk to us if there are any [pay] issues."
Since he is on a joint expeditionary tasking, Walker said he realizes that he is experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
"I'm actually rolling outside the wire," Walker said. "I've talked to the senior NCOs back at Grand Forks [Air Force Base, N.D.], and they've never had the chance to do some of the things I'm getting to do here."

Face of Defense: Marine Leads Team to Safety

By Marine Corps Cpl. Adam T. Leyendecker
2nd Marine Expeditionary Force

FORWARD OPERATING BASE PAYNE, Afghanistan,  - For much of their deployment, Marines of the 3rd Light Armored Reconnaissance Battalion have found an insurgent force that was reluctant to fight them toe to toe. Rather, the enemy has relied more on improvised explosive devices and indirect fire.
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Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jesse K. Knerr led a five-member fire team to safety during an April 20, 2011, ambush in Afghanistan. U.S. Marine Corps photo by Cpl. Adam T. Leyendecker 
But on April 20, Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jesse K. Knerr, section leader for the battalion's 3rd Platoon, E Company, and a native of Portland, Ore., found that when insurgents have their backs against the wall, they are left with no choice but to fight.
The mission of the day was to search an area that hadn't yet been explored by coalition forces but was suspected of being a site for insurgent fighting positions.
When Knerr and his fire team patrolled the area, they found structures made of rock that blended into a mountain ridge. This differed from the buildings they were accustomed to seeing, which mainly were mud huts.
Knerr signaled for his team to search the structures, where they found battery packs, rocket-propelled grenades, enemy propaganda and half-eaten meals that were still warm. After radioing in the intelligence, Knerr and his team followed a trail that led up the ridge to a small cave with an even bigger cave about 100 yards above it.
As they walked up the ridge, the team found fighting positions all along it. Suddenly, they began taking small-arms fire from insurgents in the bigger cave, only about a football field's distance away from their positions.
The fire team immediately found cover. At around 4:30 p.m., Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Yobani Tejada, the platoon sergeant, got a radio call from Knerr stating that his team was engaged by enemy fire on the ridge.
Tejada, who was in a light armored vehicle at the bottom of the mountain, told the Marines to find cover so they could provide fire from their turret and call in air support.
Knerr realized he had to come up with a plan that would get his Marines out of there safely. Spotting an area that supplied sufficient cover, Knerr directed the Marines to suppress the enemy's fire while each of them advanced toward the area.
After the Marines were clear, Knerr radioed back to Tejada, who had two vehicles simultaneously suppressing the enemy's fire. The insurgents returned fire with rocket-propelled grenades, but came no closer than about 100 yards from the vehicles. Air support arrived in the form of F-18s, which destroyed the enemy positions.
Afterward, Knerr said he was thankful that he and his fire team made it out safely.
"I knew that we all had to come together at that very moment when we were under fire and execute my plan perfectly, or lives could be lost," he said. "In a situation like that, there is no room for error."
Navy Petty Officer 1st Class Joshua I. White, a corpsman who was with the fire team, said he and the other fire team members credit Tejada with preparing them for the situation.
"He's always told us to strengthen our mind, or we'll lose it," White said. (Issued on May 5, 2011}
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