Have Camera, Will Travel...

  • Published
  • By Capt. Bryon Turner
  • 103rd Air and Space Operations Group

Business is good for the members of the 103rd Airlift Wing's Public Affairs office, so good that their services have been requested around the world.

"My most seasoned staff members are deployed and fully engaged in operations overseas and elsewhere within the country," said Capt. Jeff Heiland, base public affairs officer. "I'm very proud of the impact they're having."

Staff Sgt.  Erin McNamara, the base visual information manager, is deployed to Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, where she is providing intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support to coalition forces in the region.  As a Weapon System Video specialist, McNamara provides video products for battle damage assessment and close air support analysis to local leadership and to combat planners at the Combined Air Operations Center. 

"We are supporting informed defense strategies that protect troops throughout Afghanistan and on BAF," said McNamara. "That's a satisfying feeling." 

McNamara takes great pride in hearing the gratitude of ground forces that occasionally thank her and fellow Airmen for their role in providing close air support to the mission.

"I can't deny that I'm proud to support a world class organization that works hard every day to ensure the safety and security of our guys on the ground who face the most difficult and dangerous missions in Afghanistan," said McNamara.  "Hearing first-hand about what these guys face and overcome is humbling."

Staff Sgt. Mike Gray, a broadcaster with the 103rd Public Affairs section, is forward deployed as the NCOIC of broadcasting with the 379th Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs office.  Gray is doing his part to document the war-fighter's story in Southwest Asia, documenting the hard work being accomplished by Airmen in the Air Forces central theater of operations.

"It is good to finally be performing the job I have been trained for in a day-to-day environment," said Gray. "It allows for much more training and understanding of what your job really is." 

Gray was fortunate to be on location to document the 103rd Airlift Wing's first C-21 deployment to Southwest Asia.  His broadcast received national attention and brought additional recognition to the Flying Yankees.

"Our products go to a much larger audience," said Gray.  "Many of my broadcasts get picked up by other Air Force agencies, sometimes even AFN and the Pentagon Channel."

Master Sgt. Michelle Thomas, NOIC of Bradley's Public Affairs section, is deployed to Dover Air Force Base where she is supporting the Air Force Mortuary Affairs Operations Center as the NCOIC of Public Affairs.  Thomas uses her broadcasting skills and medical experience to participate in the fulfillment of the nation's sacred commitment of ensuring dignity, honor, and respect to the fallen and care, service and support to their families. 

"It has been said that you can measure a culture by how it attends to its dead," said Thomas. "Here, with more than 90 Dignified Transfers experienced, I find in each event our nation continues to be worthy of the honor we show as Airmen to the fallen on Dover's runway."

The Dignified Transfer is a solemn event whereby a service specific honor guard removes the transfer case from the transporting aircraft, normally witnessed by the fallen's family, escorting officials, public media if family approved and my team, said Thomas.

Thomas leads a team of video and photo experts who document every Dignified Transfer.  Her team uses the imagery they capture to produce and edit professional video productions for the family members of the fallen.  Thomas also assists with autopsies and human remains preparation work, calling upon her experience as a former medical troop.

"Coming from a medical background, I saw conflict from a different perspective during the first Gulf War while mending the wounded," said Thomas.  "It really brings full circle that experience and returns it closer to home where we all began, when we set off on our lives in service of this great nation."

Working in this emotionally charged environment around the clock, seven days a week for three months has been challenging, but Thomas remains enthusiastic about her mission.

"After experiencing the (Dignified Transfer) on the flightline with the family and then participating in the processing of the remains, I can't help but be personally moved," said Thomas.  "I take great pride in being part of the AFMAO operation centered on care, service and support and take great satisfaction in being part of something greater than myself."

Despite the high operations tempo and distant deployments, the work at home continues for the members of the 103rd Public Affairs section who remain at home. 

"There's no shortage of work around here," said Tech. Sgt. Josh Mead, Public Affairs Journalist, as he prepared to depart for an 11-week technical school at the Defense Information School, Fort Mead, Md.  "But it's been a great opportunity for us to broaden our experience and exercise our time management skills."

The monthly base newspaper and television news program, external media relations, coverage of troop deployments and major events on base and around the state still need to get accomplished, despite diminished manpower.  With Mead now away for training, the section's labor pool is nearly gone, but Heiland remains confident.

"My staff is pretty thin these days, but we're still getting our mission accomplished with excellence," said Heiland.  "I'm extremely fortunate to have such a talented and dedicated team getting the job done, both on the road and here at home."