Yokota-based airmen on duty in Ecuador
Stars and Stripes May 23, 2008
YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Ecuador is not the first country most people would name when thinking about the "Global War on Terrorism."
But two Yokota-based airmen are part of that worldwide mission on Ecuador’s tropical coastline, working with the 478th Expeditionary Operations Squadron/Security Forces Squadron in the U.S. Southern Command’s area of operations.
They are part of the more than 5,000 U.S. troops positioned throughout Central and South America who fight narco-terrorism and the flow of illegal drugs into the United States.
Yokota Master Sgt. Sean Banks and Senior Airman Brandon Abby flew to Forward Operation Location Manta in March for a six-month deployment.
Stars and Stripes interviewed both airmen via e-mail about their experiences on the deployment.
"I was ecstatic that I was coming to South America to see another side of deploying other than the desert," said Abby, who was deployed last year to Camp Bucca, Iraq.
Abby said he and Banks are the only Pacific Air Forces personnel at Manta. They provide security for the installation and the surveillance teams that operate from the base.
"The majority of the flights are from U.S. non-military government agencies, including the U.S. Coast Guard and Customs and Border Patrol, which form part of the Department of Homeland Security," Banks said. The Air Force and Navy also fly missions at Manta.
He said the aircraft crews relay the information they gather to the Coast Guard and partners, but do not engage in any counter-narcotics interdictions.
"The information collected is analyzed by the Joint Interagency Task Force South (JIATF-South), an interagency and international task force in Key West, Florida, consisting of different departments of the U.S. government and liaison officers from 12 countries, including Ecuador," Banks explained.
So far this year, JIATF-South has claimed more than $1.1 billion in seizures, he said.
Abby said he pretty much does the same job in Ecuador that he does at Yokota, performing security and making sure everyone is safe.
"We haven’t really had any exciting experiences as of yet," he said, describing his deployment to Ecuador as "a little more relaxed than Iraq."
He added: "I think that is a good thing."
One of the perks of being in Ecuador is the chance to take in some of the local culture.
Abby said beautiful weather has given him a chance to go sightseeing and visit nearby beaches.
He’s also participated in community service projects with his unit, including painting a school for the handicapped and handing out backpacks with school supplies to more than 5,000 students.
Stars and Stripes reporter Leo Shane III contributed to this story.