Sabers deploy to fill Army Billets

1st Lt. Ben Taber, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, performs a room clearing drill at Fort Hood, Texas, as part of his pre-deployment training. (Courtesy photo)

1st Lt. Ben Taber, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, performs a room clearing drill at Fort Hood, Texas, as part of his pre-deployment training. (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Scott MacNeil, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, learns Army shooting techniques at Fort Hood, Texas, before deploying to fill an In Lieu of Forces billet in Iraq. (Courtesy photo)

Capt. Scott MacNeil, 52nd Logistics Readiness Squadron, learns Army shooting techniques at Fort Hood, Texas, before deploying to fill an In Lieu of Forces billet in Iraq. (Courtesy photo)

070119-SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, GERMANY -- It is hard to know what to expect on a first deployment. The mystery is even deeper for Airmen deploying as In Lieu Of Forces who are filling traditional Army billets.

This was the case for 1st Lt. Ben Taber and Capt. Scott MacNeil of the 52nd Logistic Readiness Squadron as the two volunteered for a short-notice deployment tasking to support Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Within three days of receiving the notice, the two officers had their bags packed and were awaiting a plane bound for Fort Hood, Texas, where they began their first phase of Army training classes began.

"When we left, it was like going to basic training. We did not know what to expect," said Captain MacNeil, the 52nd LRS readiness flight commander. "From day one, we learned to shoot, move and react like the Army. We shot M-16s in full gear and learned how the Army clears buildings room by room; it was a true Army wake-up call. We had to learn a lot of Army lingo, the biggest hurdle was going from the Air Force culture to a full out Army culture."

Overall, the Airmen spent two months training with the Army at three different locations before they were sent into the area of responsibility, each in charge of a three-person team. Lieutenant Taber, the 52nd LRS officer in charge of deployments, served in Iraq with the Multinational Security as the OIC of the garrison support unit and as a fuels officer. Captain MacNeil was first deployed to Au Numaniyah, then Basrah Air Station and finally Tallil Air Base, Iraq, as the garrison unit flight commander.

While in theater, the lieutenant taught the Iraqi commander of Camp India and his forces logistics. He also mentored Iraqi officers on fuels management processes at Camp Habbaniyah.

"I taught them how to test the fuel coming in to make sure it was good," Lieutenant Taber said. "We spent time training on ways to run the facility on the limited resources they had, determining which areas where the most important to be powered and when it was all right to limit power in other areas. We also looked for problems we could fix before they became huge problems."

Unlike Lieutenant Taber whose work with the Iraqis was hands-on, Captain MacNeil filled an advisory role. He helped facilitate contract and logistical support issues with Iraqi forces for the entire southern part of the country. He served as a liasion officer between the Army and Navy, and with the British, Australian, Italian and Danish armies working with contract, logistical, communications and power production ground teams.

"Sometimes it was challenging working with the Iraqis and helping them to understand that tomorrow will bring something new, and that they did not have to horde things," the lieutenant said.

Despite the occasional challenges, putting forth the effort to work through these challenges later proved rewarding for these Airmen.

"At the end of the day, seeing the light bulb come on and then watching the Iraqi forces come up with ideas on their own and were sometimes even better, made me feel like I was really part of something," Lieutenant Taber said.

The experience is one neither Airman will forget.

"I was really glad I took this tasking," the captain said. "The team I was part of, I feel, made a significant difference in the future of Iraq. We were out there working hand in hand with the Iraqis, and believe we saw them turn a small corner to their overall goal."