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Master Sgt. Mo Mustafa, a member of an explosive ordnance disposal team in Iraq, hands out candy to children from a group of houses outside the walls of Baghdad International Airport during a bomb-clearing visit to the site.
Master Sgt. Mo Mustafa, a member of an explosive ordnance disposal team in Iraq, hands out candy to children from a group of houses outside the walls of Baghdad International Airport during a bomb-clearing visit to the site. (Kent Harris / S&S)

Despite a breakneck pace, from everyday work and training to the war on terrorism and now occupation duty in Iraq, many in uniform say all the action is exactly what they signed up for.

“I love it,” said Air Force Staff Sgt. Chris Zachary, a combat controller at RAF Mildenhall, England.

“I hear all these people [complaining] about going TDY and I’m like, ‘What?’ I came into the military to not stay at home.”

He said it is a personal choice. Some people like to be on the road and some people like to be at home. But, he said, there is only one way for a military member to respond.

“You do what you’re told,” he said. “You don’t have to like it.”

His response to those who believe the tempo is too high and the number of missions is too great: “Maybe these people shouldn’t be in the military.”

After nearly five years as an enlisted man in which he never left the United States, 2nd Lt. Jacob Corlett switched sides. He joined the officer corps and is now at RAF Mildenhall.

He said the operations tempo may be great, but that’s the way of the world. “It’s a lot of stuff, but I think it’s all stuff that needs to be done,” Corlett said.

His personal opinion doesn’t enter into it, he said. If the commander in chief gives the military a mission, then it must be done. That goes for current and future operations.

Others point to a moral necessity to help those in need, despite the military’s already heavy workload.

“I think Africa’s a big problem,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Jim Tiller, 23, an aviation mechanic based at Naval Air Station Sigonella. “You want to keep the peace there. But I don’t see how we have enough people to be everywhere we are all the time. I guess we can pull it off.”

For others, it’s all part of the job in uniform.

Monica Barnes, 31, an Information, Tours and Travel office employee from Los Angeles whose husband is a Navy weather forecaster, said, “I know certain things have to be done but [deployments] put a strain on the family. But he joined to do what needs to be taken care of.”

Nina Liberatore, a family member in Darmstadt, Germany, says she is getting tired of “America having to go everywhere to solve everyone else’s problems,” but believes the United States “is the only country that is willing to step in to protect other’s civil liberties and freedoms. If we don’t do it, no one else will.”

“I commend President Bush for keeping his word,” she said. “If he says we’re sending in troops then I also think it’s the right thing to do.”

Whatever Bush decides about Liberia, say others, if the United States is going to get involved they hope it’s not at a half-step.

“I just don’t want to see it [operations in Liberia] last as long as with Iraq,” said Petty Officer 2nd Class Brian Stump, an aviation maintenance instructor in Sigonella, Sicily.

“I don’t want us to pull out too early either. We want to make sure we get both missions [Liberia and Iraq] done properly.”

Staff Sgt. Jonathan Anlauf is a parachute rigger with the 100th Maintenance Squadron at RAF Mildenhall, a job that doesn’t let him deploy.

“We’re working a lot more hours,” he said. “Sometimes it doesn’t seem like we have enough time to do everything, but somehow it gets done.”

Anlauf has been in the Air Force for nearly five years and is aware of the rapid pace of life. But it didn’t stop him from signing up for another five years.

Airman Basic Jeanne Canales of the 100th Service Squadron at RAF Mildenhall knew, too, what she was getting into seven months ago when she joined the Air Force. But she said the possibility of multiple deployments doesn’t make her second-guess her decision to put on the uniform.

“That’s what they train and prepare you for,” she said. “It’s part of the job.”

— Contributing to this story: Reporters Jon Anderson, Kendra Helmer, Ron Jensen and Jessica Iñigo.

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