Rachael and I met while we were both stationed at Wright Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio. She happened to be at Manas Transit Center when I flew home from Afghanistan. Manas was a much needed base to help people get in and out of Afghanistan. On my way home it was a place that I was able to begin to decompress before heading home. Read her story of staying put among the transients at Manas Transit Center.
Rank during deployment:
2nd Lieutenant (O1)
Branch of Service:
Current rank/current job if you have left the military:
Campus Engineer for Bacone College/Head Women’s Soccer Coach for Bacone College.
Where did you deploy to?
Kyrgyzstan, Manas Transit Center
What was you or your team’s mission?
Project Programing and construction management for the Transit Center at Manas Gateway to Afghanistan
What was your job (general duties/daily tasks)?
Project, projects, projects! From concept to 100% completion. Supervisor.
What sort of projects did you work on?
I worked on projects ranging from semi-permanent and tent city facilities, runways, roads, and fences. I also did a series of projects on force protection/entry gate infrastructure.
How did you decide what projects would be built for Manas Transit Center?
We had a team of civilian engineers that developed projects and inspected the base. Also, we had an Air Force teams come in and review different areas of the base to determine what was needed. I presented all of the data to the Wing Commander on a monthly basis and he would tweak our priorities. We developed priorities internally (my team and the Squadron Commander). There were a lot of commanders that were experts in their areas on base and they helped to determine priorities to meet the mission of the base.
What do you mean by Supervisor, did you have Airman working under you that you supervised or local contractors?
I had a team of Airmen working as engineering assistants. I also had a team of civilian engineers developing 100% drawing sets, and I oversaw local contractors.
What cultural differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
The soup was so good in Bishkek. I have never had better winter food in my life. Such nice people and such great soup.
What landscape differences do you remember between the country you went to and the United States?
Very mountainous. Kyrgyzstan was arid, cold and very beautiful. The facilities were remnants from the old Soviet Union. Very scary to see these facilities. I called the bathroom straddle/squat toilets…you get the picture.
Are you talking about when you left Manas Transit Center? I’d love to hear more about what you saw there. When I traveled through it was beautiful and I wished I could have seen the local culture.
We were permitted to leave the base one day per week. Most of the time we took our day off and played sports or slept in but I did go off base several times in my 6+ months there. I was able to go out to eat, white water rafting, hiking, shopping, and bowling. It was a really cool time. definitely a different experience. Also our sports teams on campus competed in some local competitions such as a basketball tournament. So there were buses that took base personnel to watch the team once.
Were there any particular foods that you ate while overseas that was different from the United States?
Soup in K-stan. Yes, I can get soup in the USA, but it was better there.
What was in the soup or what was it like? Is there anything here in the US that sort of reminds you of what you had in Kyrgyzstan?
I have never had another soup like it. I would say it is close to a stew, but they were all different. Some beef some chicken. The seasoning was delicious. Very unique and I know very little about cooking or perhaps I could describe better. lol.
What was the hardest thing you faced with the cultural difference in the country you were deployed to?
I was interviewed by a local news station in K-stan for my work in organizing a soccer tournament between the locals and military members. The event was a great success, but I was the only female. So, the news station basically saw me as an activist running around playing soccer with me and doing well. I even scored some goals on the Kyrgy’s National Team players. So, I got on TV in K-Stan! It was funny, but eye opening. You just never know who’s lives you are going to touch.
I know soccer is something you are very passionate. It is cool to see how you were able to use something you love to make a difference. What inspired you to organize the soccer tournament?
We I was returning to the states to play for the all-armed forces national team and I needed to train. Already there were base member only tournaments, but they weren’t that competitive. I also had a lot of contact with locals through the projects I managed so I knew that they loved soccer. So I started asking if they would put together teams if I organized something. They said yes. We had a Transit Center at Manas locals team, a US base team, and two Kyrgyz National Teams. It was pretty cool.
What was the goal, you said it was a huge success, how did your team measure that?
Well there were 4 teams, and tons of spectators, all of the commanders showed, up and there was a lot of good will and interaction between teams and different cultures. The goal of good competition, a great crowd, and something that is worth the repeat. They did repeat once I left one time for sure. Pretty cool.
Do you remember being treated differently than your male counterparts either by the local people or other members on the team?
Oh yes. But my outgoing personality and the ‘take no for an answer attitude’ really got all that out of the way early. At first women in a male dominated career filed such as civil engineering is hard to take in these foreign areas. Compound that with Civil Engineering in the military. Well that just doesn’t leave a lot of other women to seek guidance from. I was just myself, outgoing and worked hard to know my stuff. I gained a lot of respect from the contractors and locals. I really felt great working with these folks. Even in a language barrier situation we would draw up plans and use math to communicate. I feel that if I were ever stranded I could count on these folk to help me.
Do you think your perseverance and hard work were more important you’re your male counter parts because you were a women in a foreign country?
Yes, initially. I had to get my foot in the door you know. But once I proved myself there was no gender difference.
What challenges did you face?
Language Barrier. Medieval times construction methods.
Did you have interpreters on your team to help you work with the locals?
Yes we did have interpreters to help with the language barrier.
I laughed out loud when I saw medieval times construction methods. Can you share an example of something you saw? For me, I remember when the contractor tried to use Styrofoam in the expansion joint because they didn’t know what actually went there.
Haha, yeah there were some funny things. The scariest thing though was how they tested to see if a hit electrical line was hot with a low voltage 12g wire and a light bulb. Praise the Lord it wasn’t hot because they would have been shocked to death!
Did you have any regular frustrating situations or a frustrating situation you can share about?
Not really. There is one thing and it is sort of political. I don’t like seeing tax dollars spent and then just being abandoned. The money I put into the Transit Center at Manas, just me, was in the millions and millions. I want to be smarter about what we do and there is a disconnect between those on the ground and those making the decisions at a higher level. I hate that the US no longer has the Transit Center and that all of that infrastructure is wasted.
I can totally relate to people from higher not understanding what is going on the ground. When were you at Manas Transit Center? I saw it was closed in summer of 2014.
I left Spring 2011 in March. I was there from August 2010 to March 2011
What is the one thing you remember most from your deployment?
Projects and meetings.
I was kind of going for random memory, something people who have never deployed wouldn’t know happened on a deployment?
ummm…well people might not know that the dining hall was open 24-7 and that was awesome! Or that I worked 12-16 hour days…lots of sports competitions. We even had weight lifting competitions!
Is there a memory or story from your deployment you want to share?
Above I share that one about communicating with an engineer through math, that is a pretty good one. A Contractor and I didn’t have a translator for one meeting. And I was questioning his foundation depth. To communicate we drew out the load diagram together and solved the problem with him speaking no English and me speaking no Russian. Pretty cool. I also worked with RED HORSE (Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron Engineers), which was pretty awesome.
What sort of project did you do with RED HORSE?
RED HORSE is an expeditionary quick response contingency construction arm for the AF. They come in fast and get bases built. We had to move some larger planes on the base for response into Afghanistan. There was no place to park them. They rapidly deployed and build a parking pad for us. Got it done in 80 days.
What question do you get when people find out you deployed?
Humm…was it dangerous. Well yes it was, but I wasn’t out in the most dangerous areas. I never stepped into Afghanistan and let me tell you, those that did get my respect. I always had long days and a bed at night. There are those that didn’t and did a service for our country.
Speaking of transients on their way to Afghanistan. Did you have a lot of interaction with those traveling through?
Not much. Most were detoxing. Drinking their one beer. Honestly the wave of transients at a time were in the 5000s. So many at one time for just a few days. We just tried to stay out of the way.
How did your job support those who were on their way to or from Afghanistan?
We were a place to transition between the desert and the US. Beer, good food, Wi-Fi, a library…a way to contact family a lot more than while in Afghanistan. It was a good way to de-stress before returning home for 2-5 days. We made sure that facilities were there for the transients to use. A lot of the sports programs were for the transients. Just a little taste of normal.
Want to hear more of Rachael’s Story as an Air Force Civil Engineer. Check out her episode on Women of the Military Podcast here!
This is Day 6 of 31 Days of Deployment Stories, check out the full series here. Yesterday I share about my friends experience as part of a PRT. Tomorrow I will share my first Spouse Spotlight: A Tale of Two Deployments. Don’t miss a post! Sign up for my weekly email list here.