Shots from behind the scenes: USAF EC member recalls deployment to Southwest Asia

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
The Air Force trained her to be a graphic artist, but when Staff Sgt. Ericka Khudakivsky deployed to Southwest Asia earlier this year, she found herself documenting the mission in a whole new way.

A member of the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's multi-media section here, Sergeant Khudakivsky deployed to an undisclosed location in SWA to work as the NCO in charge of multi-media from May to September. From her deployed location, she supported Operation Iraqi Freedom, Operation Enduring Freedom and the Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa missions.

"Mostly, I worked with my staff doing photography for the base and for the deployed newspaper, The Sand Script," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "The deployment was a great experience because I got to see with my own eyes what part the Air Force plays in the war. And to be honest, we are a huge part. It was also interesting to see how the different cultures were within the country and how we are appreciated for what we do to fight the Global War on Terrorism."

In her more than four months on deployment, Sergeant Khudakivsky took more than 8,000 photos of Air Force deployed operations. Her work not only documented the mission but also captured moments in time that future generations can look back and understand how the Air Force serves as a crucial player in war operations.

It was the first deployment where she worked exclusively doing photography instead of graphic design. She said she learned a lot and also built on a skill she used less frequently at home station.

"Photography helps you capture the event at that split moment - it allows you to get that historical stamp in time," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "For me, it was the best job because you get to see all the huge events happen throughout the base and then document it. I went on the flightline all the time and saw how the Air Force operates first hand. There were folks I was deployed with who never went on the flightline and got that experience."

At her deployed base, a large part of the Air Force mission was air refueling support for GWOT. She said learning about that mission helped her better understand the service's "global reach" capability.

"I learned that air refueling is one of the most important assets the Air Force has," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "The refueling support from my deployed base affected an entire region which wouldn't be able to operate without that refueling support."

Whether it was the view through the lens of her camera or through interaction with deployed Airmen, Sergeant Khudakivsky said she also gained an appreciation for the people behind the mission.

"Even though we weren't exactly on the front lines, all military members completed their job with aggressiveness and pride," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "It wasn't a game, and we didn't treat it like it was an exercise. We did it for real!"

There was one moment where she said she felt a burst of pride for her service and country. While working one day to taking photos of flight operations, she was working with another Airman from her staff and they watched a plane take off.

"The plane began to take off with the front end halfway up and the tail begging to gain air," she said. "The group of Airman who helped launch the plane cheered and screamed at the top of their lungs a big 'whoo-hoo, that's what I'm talking about' as it went up and away. They were all proud of what they accomplished. Everyone took great care and pride in everything they did there with precision and excellence."

Deployment success, however, comes from being prepared, Sergeant Khudakivsky said. She gave some ideas on how Airmen can get ready.

"It's very important that you talk to other people who have deployed to the area where you're deploying," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "It is also important to keep up with the news and see what is going on in the world. That way you know what you will be facing when you leave for your location. Lastly, hands-on training is really important and should be done on a constant basis like Advanced Contingency Skills Training, chemical warfare training and others, so that you'll always be prepared."

As a member of the USAF EC, which helps train Airmen for deployments, she said it's good for staff members to get out to get the deployed experience so it can be passed along to other Airmen.

"Since we are a huge part of the training sector, I think it is important for us to deploy because the people who work here have to teach and train Airmen every day," Sergeant Khudakivsky said. "When someone for the USAF EC deploys, there is no doubt that person will be a huge asset to the Center."

Sergeant Khudakivsky noted that she's happy to be back from her deployment, but she won't forget it. She'll soon be entering a new career field that will, if she deploys again, have her doing different work.

"I'll miss working out on the flightline with my camera in hand," Sergeant Khudakivsky said.

"On this deployment, I enjoyed documenting the mission, meeting new Airmen and seeing the Air Force in the fight behind the scenes," she said. "I know we're in it to win, and I hope my small part helped us in that winning effort."