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Succeeding in the combat zone

  • Published
  • By Lt. Col. Rod Radcliffe
  • 1st Communications Maintenance Squadron
Imagine you have just received your deployment tasking for the next AEF rotation…Baghdad, Balad or Kabul. You wonder, what job will I do? What will the environment be like? Will I succeed in a high stress combat zone?

I was recently faced with these same questions as I prepared for a four-month deployment to the International Zone in Iraq to fill a J-6 position working communications issues. As happens quite often in the fluid environment in Baghdad, I was redirected to work as a liaison officer in the Iraqi joint operations center and I found myself as the only Airman on the Army liaison team. I had to quickly learn “Army-speak” and Army tactics, techniques and procedures to accomplish the mission.

The number of Airmen in the International Zone is small compared to the number of Army personnel, but they have a significant impact on the headquarters. Most of the Airmen are working within their Air Force specialty code, but had to learn the “joint” way of doing business. Others working outside their specialties had a steep learning curve but are succeeding in their new missions.

I wondered how my Army counterparts viewed our Airmen, so I asked some of the senior leadership what they thought. Overall, they found Airmen to be dedicated, professional and motivated – just the characteristics needed in a high-ops tempo combat zone.

So how can you be as successful in this challenging and unfamiliar environment? From my observations and experience, I believe there are five things you can do to succeed in the war zone:

Be ready: The best thing you can do is to know your job; be the expert. Paying attention during your ancillary training and self-aid buddy care class just might save someone’s life.

Be fit to fight: You may end up walking long distances and wearing 20 pounds of body armor can quickly sap your strength if you are not in shape.

Be flexible: Embrace the role you are given and accept the differences around you. Modify your actions and procedures to fit the situation, which will allow you to settle in and quickly learn the “joint” or “coalition” way of operating. This “get-the-job done” approach is key to mission success.

Be accountable: Every position in the combat zone is an important one. Welcome the responsibility you are given and hold yourself accountable to ensure the mission is done right.

Be enthusiastic: Enthusiasm is a force multiplier. High ops tempo is a way of life here and enthusiastic Airmen deal with the situation best.

I’m proud of the Airmen I deployed with in Iraq . They did amazing things everyday and did a great job of representing the Air Force. If you get the chance to serve in a similar environment, I encourage you to embrace the opportunity to show our Soldiers, Sailors and Marines just what it means to be an Airman.