It does matter
Polk County Itemizer-Observer
March 30, 2005
I am writing this from a tent inside the 727th Expeditionary Air Control Squadron tech site. It is a lazy Sunday afternoon; in a short while I'll be walking out to the TSQ-23 Operations Modules (OMs) we control the air
war from. Today is a light day; I'll likely only spend four hours on "scope."
For the deployed troops, every day is the same -- only different. We work twelve to fourteen hours a day, six to seven days a week. Our unit fulfills a 24/7 operational requirement for command and control of tactical air assets within Iraqi airspace. We are a "jack of all trades" kind of unit.
Our missions span the continuum of tactical air control: aerial refueling, close air support, intelligence collection platform de-confliction, flight follow, aircraft/artillery coordination, as well as developing missions related to facilitation of immediate air tasking needs.
Bottom line: if an aircraft flies in Iraq, our unit likely directs them where to go (or not go), what to do, and makes sure they find a safe place to land.
As a Ground (based) Theater Air Control System (GTACS) Mission Crew Commander, I lead three teams of specialists: weapons controllers, surveillance technicians, and data link/system technicians. Our unit is the senior radar element in Iraq -- the forward-employed "command and control" element for the Combined Forces Air Component Commander (CFACC).
Throughout the day we coordinate with the CFACC's staff at the Air Operations Center and do our best to "manage the chaos" created when the daily Air Tasking Order (plan for the day) meets reality. As most combat veterans know, rare indeed is the battle plan that survives first contact.
That said; we do our best to try and implement the intent of the document if not its details.
Most evenings, I slip away to watch the sunset atop one of our bunkers. In that moment, site alarms, aircraft emergencies, fatigue, and most other distractions slip away. Perspective is gained: We are living in interesting times; we are engaged in a battle for the future of the Middle East; what we are doing matters.
Although I have been on nine previous contingency operations -- including
the convoy into Baghdad in 2003 - this assignment is the most important of my career. Iraq has gradually become the fulcrum. Whatever reasons got the U.S. into Iraq, we are here now. And the stakes couldn't be higher.
We told the world that democracy could succeed in a place with no history of self-determination. We also assured the world that we would stay until the job was finished: that the tribal conflict and religious differences were temporary obstacles in the path of progress.
For good or ill, whether we knew it at the time or not, the United States of America -- all of us -- are now committed to developing a genuine democracy in the shadow of Babel.
We will either succeed in assisting Iraq develop a democracy, or we will fail.
I hope we choose to win.
Paul Evans, a Monmouth resident and former mayor of that city, is an Air Force major currently serving his second tour of duty in Iraq.