From Airman Leadership School to Afghanistan

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Michael Ripple
  • 12 Air Force (Air Forces Southern) Communications
On Sept. 11, 2001, I was stationed at Incirlik Air Base, Turkey as a senior airman. At the time I had a line number for staff sergeant and was attending Airman Leadership School. After one of our exams, the ALS superintendent walked into our classroom in a very casual manner and stated, "Someone flew an airplane into one of the World Trade Center towers..."

The class let out and we started to watch the footage in the superintendent's office and saw the second aircraft hit the other tower. We knew then it was not just an accident.

I remember hearing the sirens on the base go off as we went into THREATCON, now FPCON, Delta. All of the Turkish nationals were escorted off the base. With the Status of Forces Agreement for Incirlik, at least 75 percent of the workers on base were Turkish. This now meant the commissary, base exchange, shoppettes, dining facilities, trash pick-up services, etc. would cease operations. Basically everything was closed - and the mad dash to stockpile from the stores was crazy. No one was allowed off-base, period.

I had to report back to my normal shop even though I was still enrolled in ALS. Our shop was put on 24 hour operations, and I was still awaiting word if we were going to resume classes. After three or four days of waiting, we were able to resume class.

The class, especially its tempo and activities changed. Nothing happened outside, and everything was done in battle dress uniforms - even graduation. After graduation on September 25, 2001, I returned to my shop. We still were in FPCON Delta, and locked down. Everyone's mindset was drastically changed as war was upon us.

Trash was piling up and stunk everywhere around the base. At times, helicopters were sent off base to various locations to pick up sustenance items. I do not know the exact date of when services on base resumed, but they eventually did.

The next months were spent planning on getting satellite communications and TV and radio services to
Afghanistan.

In late January and February of 2002, I was sent into Afghanistan to stage and set up satellite communications, as well as TV and radio services for troops already on the ground in Afghanistan.

Once we entered Afghanistan, the operational security was so tight I didn't even know where I was in Afghanistan. If you have ever heard of digging holes for a latrine, or sitting on a box - those are all true. While there our team was able to aid CNN and FOX News in setting up their communications. We also set up American Forces Network services for the troops and were able to provide them services to watch the Superbowl that year.

I remember one of my co-workers who was there telling me of a U.S. Marine, who sat on a spot on a cold concrete pad after learning the Superbowl would be televised in that area. He sat on the cold slab for hours and wasn't going to move. He was a St. Louis Rams fan and was not going to lose his spot and was going to watch his favorite team, even if he was not at home and was at war.

The feeling of pride in your job, your service, and your country hits you hard after doing what we did early on in Operation Enduring Freedom.

I returned to Afghanistan in 2008 and2009. It was a lot different seven or eight years later, but just as dangerous. I was deployed to become part of a two-member theater maintenance and installation team for Multi-Point Microwave Distribution Systems.

I was assigned to Bagram Air Base, under the 101st Airborne Division, but traveled between Forward Operating Bases during the seven to eight months I was there. I traveled and performed maintenance and installation in Kandahar, two forward operating bases in Jalalabad, FOB Salerno, several sites in Kabul and others around the country. While at many of these places, I was subject to indirect rocket fire many times, but the one while at Camp Eggers in Kabul was the worst.

I was about 30 feet from the entry control point, when a huge explosion occurred; knocking me and the people I was with to the ground. An insurgent detonated a vehicle-borne improvised explosive device between two fuel tanker trucks, not knowing diesel fuel does not ignite like gasoline. It blew out all the windows on base and out of several building in the vicinity of the camp.

After 9/11, being in the military became a quick stroke of reality - of what it is to be an Airman and not just a "job".

Everyone takes the oath of enlistment with the words "I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic...and that I will obey the orders of the President of the United States and the orders of the officers appointed over me..." and I will do what I am sworn to do.

The events of 9/11 and the deployments thereafter have affected me personally by removing me from my normality. The bigger, broader picture was now present, meaning I would have to readjust my lifestyle from that point on. Having to be or always be ready to leave and be away from family, friends and co-workers. It has meant different operation tempo and doing what's in the best interests of our country over your usual everyday life. As we know, every deployment affects everyone differently.

The events of 9/11 not only affected my military life but also all of us as citizens of the U.S. Growing up in New York State, I took the attacks personally. It made me feel that they not only attacked the U.S.A., but my home as well.

I feel it is important to remember 9/11, as it was a turning point in our world - everyone is vulnerable and terrorism is real. It did not just affect the U.S. but just about every other country as well. Thousands of innocent lives were lost as a result of terrorism. We should remember 9/11 for those who lost their lives that day and for the all the service members who have served, the many that continue to put themselves at risk every day and the ones that have given the ultimate sacrifice for their country as a result of the attacks on 9/11.


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