506th AEG boosts amenities at temporary base
July 25, 2003
KIRKUK, Iraq — For members of Air Force expeditionary units, it often isn’t practical to set down roots. But it doesn’t mean that quality-of-life issues are ignored.
Just ask airmen stationed at what may be soon known as Freedom Air Base on the outskirts of Kirkuk.
Col. Jim Callahan, commander of the 506th Air Expeditionary Group, has been here for months. But many of the 1,200 or so airmen serving under him now are relatively new to Iraq. That’s because the Air Force is in the middle of one of its rotations. Most airmen will stay in the country for about four months.
Callahan, operations group commander for the 98th Range Wing at Nellis Air Force Base, Nev., expects the base to stay around for several rotations. But not forever.
“We very much will try to stay expeditionary,” he said. “I don’t envision this becoming a place where you have a sizeable Air Force presence for 13 years.”
In the meantime, everyone’s trying to make it feel like home. That’s easier now than it was months ago, said Tech. Sgt. Deborah LaGrandQuintana, who arrived in the country May 3.
“No place to sleep, no water, no air [conditioning], no anything — except critters,” she said of her early days on the base.
That’s changed, thanks largely to the command’s civil engineer detachment and others who pitched in to gradually build a tent city that provides many of the comforts of home.
Those tents have air conditioning and bunk beds where an airman sleeps on one level and stores stuff on another. Toilets flush. And showers sometimes offer hot water.
There’s a large pool that airmen and soldiers use. The base features one of the nicest and largest Army and Air Force Exchange Service outlets in the country.
The 506th is one of the first — if not the first — to start serving troops three meals a day from its dining facilities.
The food is the first thing newcomers such as Staff Sgt. Malinda Julian notice.
“It’s better than when I got here [two weeks ago],” she said. “We … got here at the right time.”
Staff Sgt. Denedre Threatt, who works in graphics for the command, nods her head: “Actually, it’s better than what I thought it would be.”
That would be good news for Callahan, who believes that servicemembers perform better when they’re able to rest and relax in a comfortable environment on their down time.
“You don’t need much to motivate these kids,” he said. “They’re all working their tails off. But anything you can do to improve their quality of life helps.”
Callahan has several goals that would improve base conditions for airmen and soldiers. The differences between the services are evident all over Iraq, with the Air Force, generally tied to its runways, living better than the larger and more spread out Army forces.
Soldiers stationed in the 173rd Airborne Brigade generally credit their Air Force partners with getting them mail and supplies quicker than many of their Army counterparts in the country.
That’s also something Callahan likes to hear.
“I don’t think you can have a better working relationship than the one I have with [173rd Commander Col.] Bill Mayville,” he said. “I fully support his work outside the wire and he fully supports me inside the wire.”
In fact, most of the airmen stationed in Kirkuk are there to support the Army’s mission. The largest security forces detachment in Iraq guards the gates of the base, freeing up soldiers. The 303rd Expeditionary Fighter Wing — composed of A-10 Warthogs — provides close air support for soldiers.
And all of those working in logistics and related fields unload tons of cargo to feed and supply themselves as well as their Army brethren.
LaGrandQuintana said that’s something that hasn’t changed since she got to the base. But features such as showers make it easier to do the work now, though.
“Most of the time, you stank so much that you couldn’t smell the other guy,” she said, with a smile. “Appearance is good, but you’ve got to get the job done.”