Contingency skills training instructor returns from year-long deployment training Afghan army

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
For Tech. Sgt. Samuel Schmitz, going to Kabul, Afghanistan, for a year was by far one of the longest deployments he's ever been on in his 12-year Air Force career. However, he said it was well worth the effort. 

In January 2007, Sergeant Schmitz, a contingency skills training instructor with the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's 421st Combat Training Squadron here, left for Fort Riley, Kan., for two months of Army contingency skills training before deploying to Afghanistan. 

"My job there was to work as an Afghan National Army Central Movement Agency mentor," Sergeant Schmitz said. "My duties required me to work with junior ANA officers and senior NCOs to mentor and advise them on how to become and operate as a professional military. I was also a team lead on a mobile maintenance training team, or MMTT, that traveled the country providing training to various ANA units on vehicle and equipment maintenance." 

Sergeant Schmitz' work in Afghanistan, from which he returned Feb. 3, is similar to what he's been doing at Fort Dix since October 2003 with the 421st CTS supporting courses like Advanced Contingency Skills training or Air Force Exercise Eagle Flag. In those courses, he's trained Airmen in areas such as HMMWV familiarization and field generator operations. 

"I am a civil engineering electrical power production specialist by trade," Sergeant Schmitz said. "My work here with the Expeditionary Center certainly helped in my work in Afghanistan." 

During his deployment, Sergeant Schmitz said he saw "huge" changes take place in the country's infrastructure and economy. 

"When we first arrived there, children were roaming the streets - now they are going to school and getting an education," Sergeant Schmitz said. "The police and Afghan National Army presence have improved dramatically over the past year. During my tour, working with the ANA to train and advise them of their daily operations and missions, we also saw huge improvements. Our ANA mission moved critical cargo all over the country in support of other ANA troops. When those ANA troops would return from missions where they encountered resistance or improvised explosive devices, they'd tell us the training they received from us was vital to their mission success. It made every member of my team have a sense of purpose and accomplishment for what we were sent there to do." 

Sergeant Schmitz added that it was the little things that made each member of his team proud to serve and to help the government of Afghanistan begin to develop its own identity. 

"Even though progress is being made in Afghanistan," Sergeant Schmitz said, "it is still going to require a huge effort from the world in order to bring peace and stability to a country that has only known war for most of its existence." 

Since the U.S. began Operation Enduring Freedom on Oct. 7, 2001, thousands of Airmen have deployed to Afghanistan to help build the fledgling democracy and train a new Afghan force. Sergeant Schmitz said it's taking a joint effort to do this immense task. 

"I learned how important my fellow brother-in-arms standing to my left and right were to my ability to return home to my family," Sergeant Schmitz said. "All the U.S. armed forces are working together there to make a big difference. I can say I only did a small part in that effort." 

Going on such a long deployment also means being ready, Sergeant Schmitz said. It amounts to one thing - training. 

"Nothing will ever fully prepare you for the challenges one may face during a combat tour," Sergeant Schmitz said. "Split-second decisions are made that impact your life along with the lives of your teammates. Continuous training is the cornerstone to mission success and your survivability. Training before, and most certainly during the tour, will provide each team member with the ability to make those split-second decisions correctly." 

Now that he's back, Sergeant Schmitz knows his work will ultimately help other deploying Airmen. That help will come in the form of providing new updates in training for the students who traverse the halls of the USAF EC campus. 

"I think each Airman who passes through our doors learns how to work as a team, persevere in tough situations and how to operate professionally outside of their normal environment," Sergeant Schmitz said. "What I can do is take what I've learned through experience and help them gain more confidence in doing all those things." 

Asked if he could provide some immediate advice to deploying Airmen, Sergeant Schmitz said they should "wear every last piece of protective gear" and be ready for the unexpected. 

"Wear all of your protective equipment to include helmet, throat protector, side plates, ballistic glasses, hearing protection, gloves and uniforms, because they work," Sergeant Schmitz said. "Make sure both your primary and secondary weapons are functional and you have full loads of ammo. Check your buddy to make sure he is as prepared as you. Know your equipment! Lastly, don't become complacent no matter how many times you conduct the same mission or travel the same routes." 

After 12 months, Sergeant Schmitz said he's glad to be back, but he will always think about the others in Afghanistan continuing the mission. He'll hold fond memories of the 14 other Airmen he lived and worked with on a daily basis. But mostly, he said he'll keep faith in his country and the work that is being done to improve the future of Afghanistan. 

"God Bless America and the Airman, Soldier, Sailor or Marine standing in harm's way today," he said.