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Deployment provides Airmen with life-changing experience

MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- After long months on the desert roads in Southwest Asia, six Airmen returned to Misawa with lessons learned and life-changing experiences as convoy drivers.

The 35th Logistics Readiness Squadron Airmen deployed on in-lieu of missions in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. In-lieu of missions supplement Soldiers whose skills are needed in combat more so than on convoy duty and are becoming regular deployments for Air Force personnel.

"For the most part, it was a really good experience," said Senior Airman Tristan Bryant, who smiled as she recalled her time working with the Army. "We became a second family, a home away from home."

Training and teamwork were major factors in the team's success with life on convoy duty and driving on long dangerous stretches of road, said Tech. Sgt. Thomas Karnes.

"It can be dangerous," Sergeant Karnes said. "But we bonded together as a team. We were trained well, so when something did happen, we were ready to take it to them. We were a good team."

Three of six members laughed and joked about the quality of life issues they would miss from their time on the road -- things such as long walks from the tent to a bathroom in shower shoes; feeling the oven-like heat of the desert air; and the endless handfuls of sunflower seeds passed around as snacks on numerous long drives.

But jokes and laughter ceased as they spoke about some of their missions. On his first mission as the only convoy commander, Sergeant Karnes' convoy was attacked. It was not like what is reported in the news, he said.

"They (attackers on the convoy) seemed intimidated," Sergeant Karnes said. "They didn't even stick around. They seemed like they were just trying to torment people."

Sergeant Karnes shifted in his seat as he spoke of roadside improvised explosive devices and how the combat skills training kept the team focused.

"We were on the road headed back toward Kuwait, and we had a roadside bomb go off," he said.

Immediately, the training kicked in, he said. Maintaining communication from his command truck, the team assessed the situation. Everyone did what they were trained to do.

Within minutes security forces secured and cleared the area, according to Airman Trevor Veitz. The area was now a hot spot.

"We did what we were trained to do, and that was to get out of there," said Airman Veitz. "We assessed the damage to the vehicle and figured out how to get the vehicle to move again."

Though the road side bomb injured a member of the convoy and damaged a vehicle, the Airmen agreed their training ensured that everyone made it out alive.

Even though the Airmen encountered life-threatening situations almost daily, they said they were proud to serve their country.

"This was my first deployment," said Airman Bryant. "It's very possible we can get tasked again. I feel like I am actually protecting my friends and family back home and I got to meet a lot of good people."

Even as the Airmen return to the luxuries of civilian clothes, some time off work and readjusting to regular sleeping hours, "we stay ready" to go again, said Airman Veitz.