Get out of the box

  • Published
  • By Staff Sgt. Mareshah Haynes
  • 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs Office
As my tour here at Joint Base Balad comes to an end, I've looked over the last six months and thought of all the things I've had an opportunity to do and people I've met. I've done things I said I would never do, like fly in a helicopter, and met people I've never expected to meet, like the vice president of the United States.

As excited as I am to go back home and see my family, leaving will be a bittersweet experience.

I will be the first to admit that I wasn't excited about deploying when I was first tasked. If I'm going to be 100 percent honest, I was downright disappointed. I had other plans for my Air Force career at the time and going to Iraq wasn't part of them. Now I realize what an opportunity I had coming here to Iraq, especially to the 332nd Air Expeditionary Wing.

As the granddaughter of one of the original Tuskegee Airmen, being a part of the 332 AEW was very special for me. I was able to continue a family tradition as well as an Air Force tradition. How many people can say that? I learned more about the original Tuskegee Airmen, who were members of the 332nd Fighter Wing, and even my grandfather, than I would have by staying at my home station.

I've gained a greater respect for my fellow Airmen and the jobs they do as well as the other servicemembers who are assigned to Balad with me. I've been able to see my own job in a whole new light as well. By being a journalist in a deployed location, I've had the chance to load a dump truck with a front loader. I've flown on medical evacuation missions with Army medics to pick up critically injured patients. Every time I go out with a different unit and see how hard they work and the sweat equity they put into it, it makes me that much more excited to tell the world about their successes here in Iraq.

That's something I don't think I could've gotten at my home station. There's just something about all of us being outside of our comfort zone, away from our families, doing the mission that we've all been trained for, and seeing the results.

When I go to the Air Force Theater Hospital here and I see the looks of appreciation on the faces of the Iraqi patients being treated, it makes me proud to be associated with the Airmen who work in the hospital and maintain a 98 percent survivability rate. When I see injured U.S. servicemembers in the hospital still eager to get back to their units so they can fight along with the rest of their team, it makes me want to fight with my team too.

You can search the Internet and watch the news and as many movies as you want to on the subject, but until you have seen it for yourself, I don't think you can ever fully appreciate the progress the coalition forces are making in this country. Whether you agree with the war or not, we are making a positive difference in this country for a lot of people.

Sure it's hot and dusty here and I've seen bugs that look like they crawled straight out of the Mesozoic era. I've also had some of the best experiences of my Air Force career and seen military members in action who blow my mind. I wouldn't trade these last six months for anything.

I definitely will appreciate sleeping in my own bed again and not wearing my uniform or physical training gear everywhere I go. I can't wait to have a fast-food cheeseburger and watch real commercials again, but I will still miss Balad.

I'll never forget my time here and I'm sure I'll be back in Iraq either here or at another base. Since I've been here, I think I've become a better journalist, a better noncommissioned officer, a better Airman and a better person. I've learned lessons in leadership, followership, humanity and compassion that I don't think I wouldn't have learned if I hadn't stepped outside of my box and into the sandbox.

(Editor's note: Sergeant Haynes is deployed from the 1st Special Operations Wing Public Affairs Office at Hurlburt Field)