Face of Defense: NCO Manages Airfield in Iraq

BAGHDAD — Air Force Staff Sgt. Car­la Wash­ing­ton has more than enough room at Sather Air Base here to stretch her legs, with 16-mil­lion square feet of flight­line to patrol and 760 lights to check dai­ly.
“I have to dri­ve around the entire flight­line three or four times dur­ing my 12-hour shift,” said Wash­ing­ton, who serves with the 447th Expe­di­tionary Oper­a­tions Sup­port Squadron as the airfield’s oper­a­tions non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer-in-charge.

447th Expeditionary Operations Support Squadron
Air Force Staff Sgt. Car­la Wash­ing­ton, who serves with the 447th Expe­di­tionary Oper­a­tions Sup­port Squadron as the oper­a­tions non­com­mis­sioned offi­cer-in-charge at Sather Air Base in Bagh­dad, con­tacts a co-work­er, March 31, 2011.
U.S. Air Force pho­to by Senior Mas­ter Sgt. Lar­ry Sch­neck
Click to enlarge

“I come out here more often,” she added, “if it’s rain­ing, a pilot reports debris on the air­field or if there are birds or oth­er ani­mals near the run­way.”

Part of Washington’s job, she said, is to make sure the land­ing, take-off and taxi­ways are clear of debris. For­eign objects can cause dam­age to air­craft and jeop­ar­dize the lives of air­crews.

One of the most dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tions comes from birds, the Dothan, Ala., native said.

“I con­duct bird air­craft strike haz­ard checks,” said Wash­ing­ton, who deployed to Iraq from Shaw Air Force Base, S.C. “These [checks] make sure crews have a safe air­field by scar­ing birds away, or remov­ing them from the flight­line and out of the path of the planes.”

Wash­ing­ton has removed some large objects from the flight­line, she said, includ­ing debris like large met­al cans and con­struc­tion hand tools. Such items, she said, could cause an air­craft mishap if they’re ingest­ed into an engine.

Wash­ing­ton is on her third deploy­ment to Iraq. In 2005 she served at Kirkuk Region­al Air Base and at Ali Air Base in 2009. With eight years of mil­i­tary ser­vice, she is car­ry­ing on a fam­i­ly tra­di­tion.

“I have two uncles and a cousin who did 20-year mil­i­tary careers,” she said. “The one who influ­enced me the most was my cousin who retired from the U.S. Army. He told me the good and the bad about mil­i­tary life and ulti­mate­ly is the one who advised me to join the Air Force, if I decid­ed to join.”

Wash­ing­ton said the ini­tial rea­son she enlist­ed was to get mon­ey to pay for col­lege. How­ev­er, over time, her moti­va­tion for con­tin­u­ing to serve has changed, she said.

“I love what the mil­i­tary stands for,” Wash­ing­ton said. “I love the job I do, and the many ways I con­tribute to help­ing oth­ers while deployed in Iraq and at home at Shaw.”

Once a month, Wash­ing­ton vol­un­teers to vis­it with impov­er­ished Iraqi fam­i­lies to dis­trib­ute shoes, clothes and can­dy.

“They want the same thing as we do for our fam­i­lies,” she said. “They want to pro­vide for them and live in a safe envi­ron­ment. It’s worth it to see the smil­ing faces.”

Mean­while, Wash­ing­ton con­tin­ues her dai­ly trips around the flight­line, keep­ing it open and secure for med­ical evac­u­a­tion mis­sions, con­tin­gency oper­a­tions and deliv­ery of sup­plies in sup­port of Oper­a­tion New Dawn.

“Wash­ing­ton brings con­ti­nu­ity, con­sis­ten­cy and pro­fes­sion­al­ism to our team,” said Air Force Mas­ter Sgt. Richard Macum­ber, the deputy air­field man­ag­er, who’s a mem­ber of the New York Air Nation­al Guard, deployed from Han­cock Field, Syra­cuse, N.Y.

“The mis­sion always flows smooth­ly, safe­ly and effi­cient­ly when she’s on duty,” Macum­ber said.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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