Expeditionary Center instructor returns; talks about helping establish Iraqi AF training school

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Scott T. Sturkol
  • U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center Public Affairs
From March to September 2007, Tech. Sgt. Richard Oliver teamed with other Air Force training Airmen in Iraq to help establish an Iraqi air force training school.

Sergeant Oliver deployed from the U.S. Air Force Expeditionary Center's 421st Combat Training Squadron at Fort Dix, N.J., where he serves as a contingency skills training instructor and infrastructure operations assistant section NCO in charge. In Iraq, he worked as a fuels air advisor and instructor for new trainees in the Iraq air force.

Because it was a unique mission, he said, he was proud to support it for Operation Iraqi Freedom.

"I was assigned to the Coalition Air Force Transition Team, which is now the 370th Expeditionary Training Squadron," Sergeant Oliver said. "All of us who deployed there were happy to do the mission no matter the hours we worked, what temperature it was, or the work load. Our team had instructors from all over the Air Force -- including Airmen from basic military training, maintenance, intel, professional military education, communications, supply, fire and crash and, like myself, from the fuels career field."

Sergeant Oliver said it was a diverse group of Airmen that did a "great effort" in building up the curriculum for the school and getting the mission done.

"We truly came together," Sergeant Oliver said. "We learned from each other. We learned about different careers fields, and we became a team that could not be stopped. The Airmen with whom I was deployed with understood and accepted their role in fighting the Global War on Terrorism."

During his deployment, Sergeant Oliver personally developed more than 200 hours of fuels curriculum for the Iraqi school. He and his team also helped renovate buildings for the school campus. In one renovated building alone, he said his team transformed a 25,000-square-foot building into a temporary school house.

All of the effort, Sergeant Oliver said, was a positive step forward for the Iraqis and their air force.

"You can't believe everything you see on television," Sergeant Oliver said. "It's my impression that Iraqis really do want our help and want a better life. Building up this school for their air force is just one of those efforts to achieve that better life."

Whether it required a concentrated effort to obtain diesel fuel from the Iraqi army or working in the U.S. Army Tactical Operations Center to help support medical evacuation missions, Sergeant Oliver said he did a lot of things he wouldn't normally do at his home station. However, he said, the training before he left was critical, and being prepared was invaluable.

"Being an advanced contingency skills training instructor and having gone through CST here at the Expeditionary Center with the 421st CTS helped immensely," Sergeant Oliver said. "In the deployed theater, field tactics is big, and knowing how to take care of your body in a deployed location with austere conditions is also important.

"I also studied the region I was deploying to," Sergeant Oliver said. "That meant looking at things like country, geography, cultural break down, history, feelings towards Americans and knowing a little of the language they speak."

Learning some of the language goes a long way in building relationships and trust with the host nation people, Sergeant Oliver added. And, once gained, he said that trust should never be broken. "If you break the trust you've created with a national, you've lost their respect and their willingness to work with you," he said.

Sergeant Oliver said during the more than six months he was in Iraq he saw things improve and knows the groundwork laid out by his team will have lasting effects.

"I learned it doesn't matter what career field you are in, just that you must come together as a team to reach your end goal," Sergeant Oliver said. "It doesn't matter what the rank structure is, how many officers you have or how many senior NCOs you have. Until you all come together as a team you will never reach your stated goal completely. Our team did that and had great success."

Sergeant Oliver said he is glad to be home safe, but remembers there are others out there doing what he was doing -- trying to make a difference. "We know we are in this effort to be successful and make things better," he said. "I know my comrades, no matter the service, are out there making a difference for Iraq and in the war."